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International Corner: Still Cleaning Up After 25 Years: Vietnam Focuses on Landmines, Unexploded Ordnance & Rehabilitation of War-Related Disability

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from DisabilityWorld, Issue no. 17 January-March 2003. Image Page One: Four Vietnamese boys, with the accompanying text: These boys, aged 15 to 18, spend every day combing the hills of Quang Tri Province looking for scrap metal to sell to dealers along Highway One. When asked if they understood the danger in probing from unexploded ordnance and mines just under the surface of the soil, one replied: "Of course, but we have to make money somehow." Image Page Two: An Anti-Tank (AT) mine in the sand, about 350 mm in diameter.

More than twenty-five years after the end of the Viet Nam War, this country is still facing the enormous challenge of cleaning up land mines, clearing out unexploded ordnance (UXO), and rehabilitating people who were injured or became sick from the war. As we have reported before, one of the nation's most serious problems is dealing with war-related disability and its causes.

The country has made considerable progress in ridding itself of this problem. Since 1975, 4 million bombs and landmines have been removed. But the Viet Nam Veterans of America Foundation estimates that more than 20 percent of Viet Nam still is contaminated by landmines and UXO.

Since the end of the U.S. war with Viet Nam in 1974, more than 38,000 people have been killed from contact with these, and another 64,000 people have been injured.

Sixty-one provinces and cities still have landmines or UXO, and an average of 1,000 people are killed each year because of landmines or UXO.

Some areas of the country are more densely covered with landmines and UXO than others.

During the war, the demilitarized zone was in Quang Tri province and there remain some 15 million landmines in the province, covering about 40% of its land.

Projects Underway

Several projects are underway to make the country safer for its citizens. UNICEF has dedicated a total of US$10 million to reduce the incidence of childhood death and disability from preventable injuries, which includes contact with land mines and UXO.

The Viet Nam Veterans of American Foundation (VVAF) will spend $10 million (U.S.) over the next three years to provide land mine and UXO survey and marking, clearance and disposal services, and mine awareness education. VVAF will also provide assistance to land mine and UXO victims.

This project is a continuation of the Foundation's collaborative work with Viet Nam. Since 1995, VVAF has partnered with Viet Nam in these efforts. The Viet Nam Army has assisted the VVAF in finding, clearing, and disposing of landmines and UXO.

Children with disabilities: integration or "special settings"?

The children of Viet Nam are a major concern. Many Vietnamese children were disabled because of Agent Orange and unexploded landmines and UXO. There are a total of about 1,000,000 children with disabilities under the age of 14 throughout Viet Nam, though not all these children were disabled by war-related causes. In Quang Tri province alone, there are 6,800 children and youth with disabilities.

Now, the Vietnamese government and its people are making difficult choices about educating and treating these children. Should this be done in integrated settings? Or would children and youth with disabilities fare better in a "special" environment, without much interaction with mainstream society?

As in most countries, these are not easy questions to answer. Viet

Nam appears to be taking both approaches. For example, a new Kids First Rehabilitation Village is being built in Quang Tri to bring education and job training to disabled and disadvantaged kids.

Sponsored by Washington-based Kids First, the completed Village will consist of 15 buildings to house students and provide treatment, vocational training, and recreational opportunities. It should be finished in five years, but will open by the end of the year.

The Kids First Rehabilitation Village is an example of a "special"

place where disabled and disadvantaged kids are helped. About 7000 of Viet Nam's disabled children attend 72 schools just for them. These schools offer education that many disabled children would not otherwise have an opportunity to get, according to many observers.

Families find it difficult to afford education, and often the stigma from disability makes families reluctant to send their children outside the home.

Two Vietnamese experts, however, argue that integration and empowerment are what's needed for the country's disabled children.

Nguyen Thi Oanh, a psychologist, says that integration into mainstream society is critical to ensuring that they will be able to live independently later on. "Special" treatment can make kids with disabilities feel helpless, and they may become completely dependent on those who help them.

Oanh says "Rather than just offering disabled people income support, we've got to give them the confidence to live independently. The best way to do this is by providing proper education and equipping them with life skills."

Dr. Trinh Duc Duy, who directs the Centre for the Education of

Disabled Children, feels the same way. Dr. Duy wants to see children with disabilities educated in regular schools when they reach preschool age. Learning and playing with non-disabled kids will be of more help in the long run than putting disabled kids into special schools where they won't be exposed to the real world.

The Centre for the Education of Disabled Children has implemented its model in schools in Ha Tay, Vinh Phuc, Quang Ninh, and Tien Giang. About 80 percent of the kids with disabilities in those provinces now attend school.

(Information for this story was taken from the Viet Nam Times)

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