Cold War Bombs
Laos, known as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is the only landlocked country located in Southeast Asia. It shares borders with Thailand, China, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. The United States dropped 270 million cluster bombs in Laos during the Cold War and the War in Vietnam. In total, U.S. “Cold War bombs” have killed or injured an estimated 50,000 Laotians, mainly civilians and almost half of them children.

About a third of the bombs that the U.S. dropped remain in Laos undetonated. The name of these is “unexploded ordinances” or UXOs. These UXOs affect both the economic and physical well-being of the Laotian people. Recently, various organizations as well as the U.S. government have been providing funding and in-person aid to create a safer country for the Laotian people by searching for and removing unexploded ordnances (UXOs).

A Brief History of the Cold War Bombing

The United States bombed Laos from 1964 to 1973 during the Cold War to cut off Communist supply lines. According to Al Jazeera, every eight minutes for nine years, it dropped the equivalent of a fully-loaded plane of bombs. This has made Laos the most bombed country in history. Around a third of the bombs that the U.S. dropped failed to explode on impact. As a result, some have said that the U.S. left about 80 million bombs behind. These undetonated Cold War bombs have killed or maimed 20,000 people in the years since the bombing runs stopped. This legacy of UXOs is currently wreaking havoc on Laotians, who still live in fear of detonating the dormant bombs.

The Public Health Impact of Unexploded Ordnances

Laos’ economic development as an agricultural economy has suffered since 22% of detonations have occurred through farming activities. Dormant bombs also affect mining, hydropower projects, forestry and the construction of schools and clinics. Funds that other areas would use have had to go towards demining efforts and medical treatment. The Lao government has claimed there is a correlation between unexploded ordinances and poverty. This is especially true as survivors often do not have the ability to be fully productive.


Organizations such as Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and its team of around 1,200 people have been working in Laos since 1994 to help alleviate future unexploded bomb tragedies and fatalities. MAG removed its 300,000th bomb in August 2021. In a project with International Relief and Development, MAG cleared 115 schools in one region of potential bomb threats. In turn, this led to increased school enrollment in the area by 30%, as well as creating a safer environment for young boys and girls. MAG plans to help the country achieve its goal of removing all UXO by 2030.

Along with MAG, Legacies of War has been working with key decision-makers in the U.S. government to provide greater resources to remove UXOs and provide services for the 12,000 UXO victims still affected.  Legacies of War has quadrupled U.S. funding to Laos. Through its efforts, land available for cultivation and economic development has increased, while annual casualty rates dropped from around 300 to less than 50.

Finally, in 2016, under the Obama administration, the United States gave an additional $90 million in aid to Laos to remove unexploded ordnances over a span of three years. This was almost as much as the U.S. gave to Laos in the past 20 previous years. In fact, Obama was the first sitting President to visit Laos in 2016. He believed the United States had a moral obligation to help Laos “heal.” The Pentagon also allowed aid agencies to access bombing records so they would have a better idea of where more UXOs are potentially located.

Looking Ahead

While Laos has not fully recovered from the bombing runs during the Cold War, humanitarian aid organizations and the U.S. government are making progress to remove UXOs, create a safer society, allow better access to land and alleviate the fears of its citizens. Additional resources targeted to search for and remove UXOs will help realize Laos’s goal of removing all of them by 2030.

– Jerrett Phinney
Photo: Flickr

Picture a world without suffering. Is it possible?

To some this may be but a far-fetched dream, but Dr. Arthur B. Keys, Jr. has set out to make this dream a reality.

Founded in 1998, Dr. Keys and his wife, Jasna, established International Relief and Development, a nonprofit organization that fights to relieve the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized population through active engagement, empowerment and inclusion.

Over the years, IRD has provided $3.9 billion in humanitarian assistance to over 40 countries, including Afghanistan, Colombia, Ethiopia, Iraq and Ukraine. The organization heavily focuses on conflict zones and areas damaged by natural disasters. To improve the livelihoods of these people, the IRD believes it is best to provide the resources and training to become self-sufficient. Thus, rather than just providing clean water to a community suffering from drought, International Relief and Development aims to address the root causes of the problem, such as upgrading water pumps and management systems.

IRD has tackled issues ranging from a lack of schools in Haiti to impoverished women  in Mozambique to malnourishment among students in Laos. By organizing short-term and long-term interventions, they foster the path to a more developed and prosperous nation. But how does IRD get the funds to take on all these projects?

The nonprofit organization collaborates with many other agencies and donors, one of them being the U.S. Agency for International Development. As a contractor, 4,000 staff members all over the world carry out many of USAID’s programs in hopes to improve infrastructure, healthcare and governance in war-torn countries. The U.S. State Department as well as numerous UN agencies also fund IRD’s annual budget of $400-$500 million.

One of its most recent successes took place among refugees and internally displaced persons in Yemen, a country that hosts over 200,000 people from Eritrea Ethiopia, Iraq and Somalia.

Refugees and internally displaced persons all face similar struggles, but in a place where political instability and high unemployment wreak havoc on daily life, coping with the current circumstances becomes increasingly difficult.

Realizing the dire urgency, IRD has set out to assist the thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons. After assessing the deprivations and needs in the refugee camps, IRD along with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees worked to provide monthly allowances to the families. They also distributed thousands of dollars worth of school and medical supplies, hygiene kits and other goods to many school children and families. The United Methodist Committee on Relief donated most of the gifts. IRD also targeted many vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women and sexual abuse survivors, by establishing care centers and providing group therapy.

International Relief and Development continues to provide relief and assistance in the world’s hot spots. By going into desperate communities and initiating development, this organization guides countries to economic growth and stabilization. Success stories are seen all over Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, but the range of IRD’s success does not stop there. Success like this is everlasting and enduring.

—Leeda Jewayni

Sources: International Relief and Development, Washington Post, Huffington Post

The Tzu Chi Foundation is a globally immersed Chinese Buddhist humanitarian organization that is originated and based in Taiwan. It was founded in 1999 by the Buddhist nun Cheng Yen and is a volunteer organization that provides aid to roughly 70 nations worldwide.

The foundation is present in all of the world’s five major continents and maintains offices in 47 different countries.

The organization’s website clearly delineates its goals and mission. The group’s four expressed goals are referred to as its “Four Major Missions” of charity, medical help and attention, education and humanity. It also focuses on four other venues: bone marrow donation efforts, environmental considerations, community volunteering and international relief.

Their four goals combine with these considerations to form “Tzu Chi’s Eight Footprints.”

Tzu Chi maintains consultative relations with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Its members are often referred to as “blue angels” due to their signature blue uniforms. The group has built numerous villages, nursing homes, schools and hospitals across the world. It also maintains the Tzu Chi International Medical Association, which includes professional doctors who travel in times of international disaster to provide medical relief to victims.

The group also acted closer to home than many U.S. citizens may know or think. After Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New York and New Jersey, Tzu Chi members personally dispersed $10 million total in $300 and $600 Visa credit gift cards to victims in the area.

Its efforts abroad are plentiful and very personalized, illustrating an admirable method of involved humanitarianism. For example, after the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China, Tzu Chi members brought blankets, nourishment and medical aid to the disaster-stricken area. The group also focuses on very impoverished areas in China and elsewhere, distributing rice, oil, blankets, clothes and medical services to those in need.

The organization ignores ethnic, religious, national or racial boundaries or restrictions, but instead spreads Buddhist principles of morality, kindness, humanism and selflessness. Furthermore, they provide both instant and long-term infrastructural solutions to community problems throughout the world.

Tzu Chi is making a difference one blue angel at a time.

Arielle Swett

Sources: Tzu Chi, The Register

What is International Relief and Development?
While some humanitarian organizations will avoid areas of conflict, members of International Relief and Development (IRD) seek it. IRD, a non-profit relief organization founded in 1998, believes that proper governance is necessary for all other sectors’ infrastructure to develop. Since 2001, it has initiated and managed over $1 billion dollars of infrastructure projects. The numbers, however, are less important when we want to see results.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been a partner and donor of IRD since its beginning. It is the largest donor to IRD and therefore, we can expect USAID’s vision of good governance and universal human rights to filter through in its work. IRD also partners with the US State Department, United Nations and World Bank.

International Relief and Development has over 2,900 staff worldwide. IRD prides itself on the fact that over 90 percent of these staff members are hired locally. There are currently 122 projects worldwide, the majority taking place in the Middle East.

Infrastructure in West Bank

In the West Bank, IRD was awarded the 2008 INP IQC ―Infrastructure Needs Program Indefinite Quantity Contract. This USAID-led 5 year-long contract was awarded to only four organizations; IRD was the only non-profit to receive the contract. The infrastructure building of roads, schools, and water development systems were the main focus of this 300 million dollar project. West Bank, located in the Palestinian territory near the state of Israel, is one the most desperate regions in the world that seeks independence and peace with its neighbors.

Iraqi Water Supply

The challenge of obtaining potable water is found all over the world. In Iraq, IRD addressed the needs of 15,000 residents of a neighborhood in Baghdad. The Iraqi Community Action Program was granted the funds it requested. The funds, which came from USAID, helped a water production unit run at its full capacity, fully supplying the neighborhood with ample water. Instead of functioning on its previous level of 13,000 gallons per hour, it ran at 50,000 gallons per hour.

Vocational Training in Pakistan

To understand what the solutions to poverty are, we have to understand that they are many. This includes vocational training to give people the skills they need in order to support their families. Some families lose a breadwinner in the family due to war or war-related violence. In Charsadda, Pakistan, IRD, in conjunction with USAID, implemented a vocational training program in tailoring, electrical work, auto mechanics, computing, and others. In addition to receiving the training, the 116 Pakistanis that participated in the program also received small grants to start their own business.

These projects and many more are just prime examples of the work USAID funds through reputable organizations such as IRD. With its professionalism, good ethics, and ability to work in all regions in the world, International Relief and Development live up to its name.

– Aysha Rasool
Feature Writer

Source: IRD Success Stories, USAID, IRD
Photo: International Relief and Development

The Risks of International Relief and DevelopmentDr. Arthur Keys, founder and CEO of International Relief and Development, has given out $3 billion in aid in his career. Because the places that need aid most are also often the most violent and conflicted, he has flown in personally to countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Pakistan to help ensure the money reaches the right people. Keys founded IRD in 1998 and it has grown to be one of the largest U.S. non-profit agencies. Before that, he worked for the United Church of Christ’s Board for Homeland Ministries in the United States. He believes his lifelong commitment to helping people through his religious organizations has sparked his dedication to international aid.

Keys got his start on an international level in Mumbai. He supported the poor of Mumbai in their conflict with outsider interests that attempted to turn their land into expensive commercial high rises. His group provided latrines and helped the citizens to retain their property rights. Now, the situation in Mumbai is much better. The outside interests, including the World Bank, have learned that they must work with local community groups rather than strictly local government to do what’s best for the region.

Currently, International Relief and Development specialize in helping communities around the world that are recovering from conflict or natural disasters. The 4.000 staff members, 90% of whom are hired locally, develop community stabilization, infrastructure, health, agriculture, democracy and governance, relief and logistics. Only a tenth of the donation dollars they receive goes to overhead and the rest supports impoverished communities directly. In Iraq, for example, his teams worked on renovating schools, sanitation systems and water systems as well as job training.

The main goal of International Relief and Development in any of the areas where it operates is stabilization, which means getting things back to normal. Members strive to achieve this goal by working with local community groups to ensure that the people’s best interests are prioritized. Despite the constant dangers of the job, IRD continues to take on projects in potentially risky areas. This follows the spirit of founder Arthur Keys and his commitment to helping the less fortunate around the world under any circumstances.

– Sean Morales

Source: Huffington Post
Photo: NPR