PANO - Ms. Pratibha Mehta,  United Nations Resident Coordinator in Vietnam, delivered an important speech in Hanoi on April 2 during a program calling for domestic and international assistance to help Vietnam overcome unexploded ordnance consequences. The People's Army Newspaper would like to introduce her speech:

Let me start by congratulating the Mine Action Program National Steering Committee, the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for organizing this event tonight and thank you for inviting me to address it.

We are all acutely aware of two of the most tragic legacies of the War, Dioxin/Agent Orange and unexploded ordnances. Mines and explosive remnants have contaminated over 6.6 million hectares of land in Vietnam, or more than 20 percent of the country. This makes Vietnam one of the countries most contaminated by bombs and mines. Since the war ended nearly 40 years ago, more than 100,000 Vietnamese have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnances, most of them rural workers and children.

The land mines and unexploded ordnances are, above all, a development and humanitarian issues. People living in the contaminated areas refrain from farming and other productive activities for fear of losing their limbs and lives. This severely limits of socio-economic development and poverty reduction efforts. It is essential that the contaminated land is cleared and released for use so that local communities can develop and grow.

Ms. Pratibha Mehta. Photo: PANO

The United Nations has declared April 4th as the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine action. Mine action entails more than simply removing land mines from the ground. It also means teaching people how to protect themselves from danger to advocating for a mine-free world. Several international treaties regulate the use of land mines and UXOs. These instruments are part of the body of international humanitarian law, and include the anti-personnel mine ban treaty (also known as the “Ottawa Treaty”), the convention on conventional weapons, and the convention on cluster munitions. The UN’s engagement in mine action is guided by international law and actively promotes full compliance by states with relevant treaties and international human rights instruments.

I would like to congratulate the Government for its significant efforts in dealing with UXO clearance, emergency aid, treatment, re-integration and resettlement of the victims. The establishment of the National Mine Action Program covering 2010-2025 and the associated National Steering Committee recognizes bombs and mines as a development concern.

The Government’s effort to clear the contaminated areas is highly commendable and over the years, Vietnam has built up solid technical expertise in UXO clearance.  Yet the scale of the problem and corresponding funding requirements cannot be addressed solely by the Government or a single donor. It is therefore vital that international assistance is stepped up even further and that it is well coordinated.

To build on the national efforts undertaken so far, let me offer four points for your consideration.

First of all, an even stronger partnership between the Government, donors and non-state actors is essential. The governments of Japan, the United States and Norway have already provided significant support, as well as international NGOs such as the US Vietnam Veteran Association, Project RENEW, PEACETREE and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to name a few. It is vital to build on and expand this partnership in order to deal with this formidable challenge in a sustainable manner.

Secondly, a coherent governance framework to guide and coordinate contributions and actions at all levels is needed.

Thirdly, I believe it is essential to have comprehensive and up-to-date data. This will help to set priorities and guide action. Access to this information, including mapping of contaminated areas and data on human vulnerability, should be public. This will facilitate dialogue among the government and development partners and build mutual confidence to enable joint actions.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, it is important to continue UXO and mine-risk education to help people understand the risks they face and learn how to stay out of harm’s way. These efforts should go hand-in-hand with medical assistance and rehabilitation services to victims, including job skills training and employment opportunities.

This tragic war legacy can only be solved with the contribution of development partners and other stakeholders, working in partnership with Vietnamese authorities. Addressing this challenge is a pre-requisite for Vietnam’s sustainable development. Many Vietnamese - woman and men, girls and boys - stand to benefit from it.

The UN has been helping various countries around the world to deal with mines and unexploded ordinances. We can harness the lessons learnt and utilize our international networks to help Vietnam successfully respond to this development problem.

I wish you good health and great success. Thank you!