Trieu Phong District, Quang Tri Province (03 December 2012)
The snapshot of a U.S Vietnam War era 155mm illuminating projectile found at a scrap yard in Quang Tri Province, along the former DMZ of Vietnam, is a clear indication that some people still engage in searching for scrap for a living.
The projectile looks very new though it was manufactured in January 1969, the date shown on the ordnance casing.
A study conducted in 2010 by Project RENEW in Quang Tri indicated that around 33% of accidents caused by unexploded ordnance (UXO) were related to scrap metal collection. (Click here for statistics and information about the knowledge, attitude, practices and beliefs of the affected population, and the number of UXO victims in Quang Tri Province from 1975 through 2010.)
From October to November 2012, a little more than one month, Quang Tri Province sustained three accidents that injured two persons and killed one. The first occurred on 2 October in Huong Hoa District, adjacent to the former Ta Con Airstrip (which Americans call Khe Sanh). The accident claimed the leg of a 17-year-old boy who was tilling soil to plant coffee. The second accident, on 29 October in Trieu Phong District, resulted in severe injuries to a 67-year-old man who was attempting to dismantle UXO at his home and sell it for scrap. An explosion of wartime ordnance on 7 Nov killed a 60-year-old metal collector in on the spot as he searched for scrap metal on a plot of land in Dong Ha City.
Since the Vietnamese government, NGOs, and donors have found no workable solution to bring a halt to this dangerous activity, Project RENEW has been training scrap dealers who operate the salvage and recycling businesses where scrap metal is often brought, some of it UXO. If the scrap resellers could understand in some detail the types of ordnance brought in by collectors – to know more accurately the levels of danger posed by each type of munition – it was hoped this would be a way for them to avoid certain types of UXO entirely and to handle other items knowledgeably.
The system has resulted in greater safety and much better control over a dangerous situation.
First, RENEW teams went from scrap yard to scrap yard, providing basic information about UXO hazards that are likely to be found there. The training extended to all members of the salvage dealer’s family, including children. Scrap metal collectors who come to the dealers to sell war scrap are also provided with risk education leaflets, and they are given Project RENEW’s toll-free hotline number for reporting dangerous UXO findings.
“This kind of training is very useful for me,” said Nguyen Van Quang, who has been a salvage yard and scrap metal dealer in Ai TuTownlet, Trieu Phong District, since 2001. “It provides me with basic, important information to sort out dangerous unexploded munitions from other metal scrap during my transactions with collectors,” he said. His scrap yard handles about 200 kilograms of scrap per day, so the number of UXO accidentally mixed among the scrap piles brought in by collectors can be quite large. “When we find such UXO,” said Phan Gio, a local man who has worked for Quang since 2008, “we put it into the TBM,” referring to the “Temporary Bin for Munitions” or Thùng Bom Mìn.
The TBM is a concrete-reinforced and partially buried container with a ventilated lockable lid that is used by scrap dealers to safely quarantine UXO away from children and neighbors. Every week, EOD teams from Project RENEW come to collect and safely destroy these items. A total of 1,266 mortars, artillery shells, bombs and other munitions have been safely removed from scrap yards and destroyed by RENEW teams through this system.
Government authorities and NGO staff continue to consider ways to discourage and eliminate random scrap collecting. But as RENEW’s survey data shows – and local people have said many times – as long as people are poor and they see an opportunity to make some extra money, even though they know the risks, it is difficult to convince them to stop this dangerous activity.