08 November 2010

In Lao PDR, cluster bomb survivors hopeful key meeting will help to end suffering

Chanthava Podbuly, 50, is among the Lao cluster munition survivors attending the First Meeting of States Parties in Vientiane. After losing her right leg in a cluster bomblet accident in Savannakhet province, Lao PDR in 1993, this year she joined the Ban Advocates initiative to campaign for the international ban on cluster munitions. Photo credit: Melissa Fenwick/CMC.By Gemima HarveyVientiane is buzzing with activity before the historic First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention of Cluster Munitions begins this Tuesday, where states are expected to agree on concrete actions to implement the decade’s most significant humanitarian and disarmament treaty.The meeting will convene more than 110 governments and more than 400 civil society campaigners from around the world to decide a 65-point action plan for implementing the Convention in the coming years and encourage additional states to get on board the ban.The treaty highlights the power of civil society working in collaboration with governments, the United Nations and international organisations to prevent more cluster bomb victims and future suffering. Lao PDR is the world’s most heavily cluster-bombed country and a fitting place for governments to commit additional resources to assisting victims and clearing contaminated areas. The Convention seeks to create a future without these weapons, giving hope to cluster bomb victims like Chanthava Pobuly from Savannakhet province in Lao PDR."As a cluster bomb survivor I represent survivors from my country and affected countries all over the world when I say everyone needs to adopt the aims of the treaty – no more cluster bombs and no more victims," Chanthava said. "This meeting gives huge hope to all survivors. I don’t want to see anyone become a victim like me."Chanthava was farming her land in 1993 when she hit a cluster bomb. She spent one week at Sepone District Hospital before being taken to Savannakhet, where she spent another two weeks before her leg was amputated. After the accident, a clearing team removed 350 cluster bomblets from her farm."I knew it was dangerous land and my parents warned me of this, but my family is poor and we had no choice."For 40 years, from Laos to Lebanon cluster bombs have threatened and maimed civilian populations. Long after the conflict people are forced to use dangerous land for basic needs and they sometimes pay an unbearable price for seeking survival.The Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) sees this every day. Their centre in Vientiane provides limbs, physiotherapy and rehabilitation to around 1,500 people a year – 40 percent of them are disabled due to accidents involving unexploded ordnance, including cluster bombs. COPE seeks to mitigate the impact caused by indiscriminate weapons on day-to-day life by assisting in ease of movement as well as occupational training. It is the only provider of orthotic, prosthetic and rehabilitation services in Laos. While COPE works with survivors, the Convention on Cluster Munitions seeks to prevent future victims.People suffer. Development is stalled. Now cluster munitions are banned under international law, but all countries need to heed to the call and get on board the ban to end the suffering caused by cluster munitions.More information on COPE: http://www.copelaos.org/More information on the Ban Advocates: http://www.banadvocates.org/