Trieu Phong, Quang Tri (14 May 2014)
A quick response on Monday by Project RENEW’s EOD team to a UXO discovery report the day before resulted in over 60 items of wartime ordnance being safely removed from a rice field near a family residence in Trieu Village of Trieu Long Commune. The EOD task was activated by the report of a scrap metal collector who called RENEW staff to report that he had unexpectedly unearthed a large quantity of munitions.
A group of scrap metal collectors were using home-made detectors to look for scrap in a harvested rice field last Sunday. Nguyen Van Thuong, 32-year-old father of three children, and several friends were surprised to suddenly unearth a sizeable cache of unexploded ordnance. Realizing that the munitions would be very dangerous if disturbed, Thuong grabbed his mobile phone and immediately called RENEW’s Community Support Team (CST) staff to report the discovery and ask for help.
After they called RENEW, the metal collectors started to leave. But local villagers did not want them to depart until the men had secured the ordnance they had dug up, to make the site safe until the RENEW team could arrive later. So Thuong had to make a second call to RENEW.
“Our EOD teams are off on weekends,” said Nguyen Duc Hoa, CST Leader who had received the call from the young metal collector. “I had to assure the property owner and his neighbors that RENEW would deal with this situation first thing Monday morning.” Hoa instructed the villagers on how to put up a warning sign near the UXO pit. He then contacted the commune Military Officer and asked him to come to the site immediately to check the situation, to reassure and calm the villagers.
Only after a warning sign had been put up at the site, and villagers were given assurance by the commune military commander that the site would remain stable until the next morning, did the villagers allow Thuong and his friends to go.
Early Monday morning RENEW’s EOD Team No. 1 deployed to Trieu Village where they removed nine rocket propelled grenade motors and 52 mortar rounds. Later the team transported all of the items of UXO to the central demolition site where they were safely destroyed in a controlled explosion.
Scrap metal collectors represent a special challenge to Project RENEW’s mission of making Quang Tri safe. RENEW surveys have shown that scrap metal collectors undertake this dangerous activity because of economic pressures, the need for additional income to support their families, and the absence of other job opportunities.
The Project RENEW staff has adopted a cooperative, inclusive approach to the situation. According to Hoa, starting in 2010 CST team members began to reach out and befriend local metal collectors by organizing risk education training for 16 selected scrap metal dealers as part of a pilot project. It was an innovative effort to reduce deaths and injuries among scrap collectors by training them in identification and knowledge of every type of ordnance they might encounter, describing the explosive pattern and deadly impact of each type of ordnance, and explaining which pieces of UXO were more volatile and more dangerous than others. Those engaged in dangerous scavenging and trading of war scrap in Quang Tri Province became much more knowledgeable and therefore much more safety conscious, understanding how to protect themselves and others around them. They became not just part of the problem, but part of the solution.
“We understand that due to their poverty, their subsistence livelihoods, these men had decided to take the risk and continue scavenging for scrap metal, which may include war remnants,” said Team Leader Hoa. “We cannot stop them. So instead we teach them how to be safe, we encourage them not to try to dismantle, not to handle, scatter or dump UXO they may uncover, but to report it to us.”
In this instance the collaboration produced the best possible outcome, said Hoa. “Today our effort paid off with Thuong reporting his discovery – as he’s done many times before,” Hoa added.
Thuong noted that he has earned his living by scrap metal collecting for over ten years. He said on a lucky day he can earn 100,000 to 200,000 VND ($5 to $10 USD) from selling fragments he finds. “However, scrap metal prices are so low nowadays that my daily income is just sufficient to cover my family’s basic expenses,” Thuong said.
Despite a significant reduction in UXO accidents in Quang Tri over the years, particularly among children, metal collectors remain the group most vulnerable to death or injury from leftover explosives. A knowledge-attitudes-practices studyconducted by Project RENEW in Quang Tri Province indicated that scrap metal collectors have accounted for around 33% of UXO accidents since 1975. In November 2012, a metal collector died on the spot while searching for scrap metal.