Ai Tu, Trieu Phong (May 30, 2010)
Scrap metal dealers in Quang Tri Province, in a new program launched by Project RENEW, are being trained to identify and understand the technical characteristics of old wartime ordnance which is often brought in by local scrap collectors, despite the danger.
Since the war ended 35 years ago, a third of the 7,000 UXO casualties in Quang Tri Province – including 2,600 fatalities – have resulted from scrap metal collection. A Project RENEW study in 2007, in cooperation with Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and UNICEF, concluded that the reason people continue to collect this dangerous debris is because of poverty and lack of economic alternatives.
Since no workable solution has been found that would effectively bring a halt to this dangerous activity, Project RENEW program managers devised a plan to train scrap dealers so they would understand in some detail the ordnance they find – and to know more accurately the levels of danger posed by each type of munition – as a way to avoid certain types of UXO entirely and to handle other items knowledgeably. As part of this process, 16 families who run scrap businesses are being provided ad-hoc training by Project RENEW’s Community Survey Team, in cooperation with its Mine Risk Education program.
This house-to-house training course provides basic information about UXO hazards that are likely found in Quang Tri scrap yards. The training extends to all members of the beneficiary family, including children. Scrap metal collectors who come to the salvage dealers to sell war scrap are also provided with risk education leaflets, and they are given Project RENEW’s tollfree hotline number to be used for reporting dangerous UXO findings.
“This kind of training is very useful for me,” said Nguyen Van Quang, who has engaged in dealing scrap metal in Ai Tu Townlet, 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 accidently mixed among the scrap heap 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.
Every week, EOD teams from Project RENEW come to collect and safely destroy these items. So far, a total of 2,600 mortars, artillery shells, bombs and other munitions have been safely removed from scrap yards and destroyed by RENEW teams.
The survey conducted in 2007 by NPA and Project RENEW, in cooperation with Unicef and Hue University, studied scrap metal collections in three provinces of Thua Thien-Hue, Quang Binh, and Quang Tri. The intention was to use the study’s findings and recommendations to design future programs and policies for decision makers to reduce the danger to scrap metal collectors and dealers and to explore economic alternatives for them.
Accidents still happen. Last August, a 42-year-old married man in Hai Lang District, the father of two children, lost both hands and suffered major injuries from a piece of explosive ordnance which detonated as the man was attempting to cut it apart and sell it for scrap metal.
The huge amount of UXO still on the ground or just under the surface throughout the central provinces of Vietnam, coupled with poverty, the leading cause of this dangerous occupation, prolong a situation that can only be reversed by strong intervention from Vietnamese authorities, donors, and NGOs. The Project RENEW identification and awareness program, to educate scrap metal collectors and dealers, is one step toward a solution to this continuing threat.
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