Deadly unexploded ordnance become poor people’s livelihood

Daughters of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Sr. Benedictine Nguyen Thi Dien is checking a local patient’s health in the region where a large number of unexploded munitions remain, 39 years after the close of the Vietnam War. (Peter Nguyen)

Hue, Vietnam — While unexploded munitions left from the Vietnam War that ended 39 years ago are still plaguing people in the central province of Thua Thien Hue, some local people riskily use them as their means of making a living.

Ho Kan Son, a man of Pa Co ethnicity, and his two sons regularly walk to forests in A Luoi district scavenging unexploded bombs, bullets and land mines. They defuse them and cut them into pieces, then forge kitchen knives and cutting tools from the metal.

“We can forge two tools a day,” the father of three said. “My wife sells them for 100,000 dong to 150,000 dong each (U.S. $4.75 to $7.15) to people at the local market.”

“As a former Communist guerrilla, I know how to defuse old bombs and bullets and take the gunpowder out of them safely, so I do not fear they can explode,” Son, 59, said pointing to an old shell he uses as an anvil nearby a fire.

Daughters of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Sr. Benedictine Nguyen Thi Dien, who is in charge of providing health care for people in the district, said with little financial support from foreign charities, nuns give food, medicine, building materials, wheelchairs and money to victims of both unexploded ordnance and Agent Orange, the defoliant used by U.S. forces in the war that was primarily made of lethal dioxin.

Nuns also provide coffins for those who have died from bombs, and they give their children scholarships. They try to educate local people about how to avoid bomb explosions.

Sr. Dien, 71, said the yearly cost of their activities is 20 million dong, or about $950.

She noted that victims of old munitions are those who have no or low-income jobs.

“It is important to reduce the risk of life and injures by giving local people vocational skills and offering them money to raise cattle and poultry for a living,” the nun, who works as a doctor, suggested.

Read the full story at National Catholic Reporter.