People who visit Vietnam for the first time often comment on the ingenuity they witness on the street as curious craftsmen and repairmen work magic with their hands. But every day, it seems, curiosity ends in tragedy.
Today’s tragedy is about three boys who were tinkering with a land mine left over from the war that they found on a construction site near the central Vietnamese city of Danang. It was mid-morning, and the boys were taking explosives out of the mine casing when their curiosity took both of Phan Van Hieu’s hands. He’s 11 and recovering in a hospital. The boys suffered other injuries as well.
Authorities in Vietnam are well aware of the danger unexploded ordnance poses to people in the countryside, especially curious boys. In this case, the area where Hieu was hurt was a former military base that supposedly had been cleared of mines before people were allowed enter it. But you can’t always get every mine.
It’s estimated that more than 16 million acres (one fifth of Vietnam) contain 800,000 tons of unexploded bombs, shells and landmines — concentrated in six central provinces and the city of Hue.
Since 1975, unexploded ordnance has killed more than 40,000 people and injured 60,000. That’s a relentless human toll of more than 3 deaths and 4 injuries a day.