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

Feed The Future in Ethiopia

USAID began assisting Ethiopia with improvements to food security and nutrition after the country was devasted by a famine-causing drought in the 1970s. Under the Feed the Future program — designed by the Obama Administration — further initiatives have been implemented to ameliorate hunger and improve the economy. Here are five facts about Feed the Future in Ethiopia.

5 Facts About Feed The Future in Ethiopia

  1. Feed the Future symbolizes a commitment to help Ethiopia become a self-sustaining nation. The organization is committed to a detailed short-term plan that is expected to minimize extreme poverty, malnutrition and hunger in the long-run. The plan will assist Ethiopia in its endeavors to become a lower-middle-class country within the next six years.
  2. The plan focuses on agricultural development in Ethiopia. Feed the Future provides farmers with updated “technology and practices,” which encourages productive and sustainable farming in the agriculture-based country. This includes the implementation of a Farm Service Center Project from 2015-2017 to aid in credit access, food security and gender equality. Thanks to the program, 100,000 farmers are able to deploy new, innovative technologies from 20 new private retail farm service centers.
  3. Coffee is a key crop. From January 2018 to April 2019, the organization helped Ethiopia send 6,000 kilograms of dried coffee to Germany and Japan. Feed the Future is focusing on increasing coffee seedling profitability by investing in “wet mills and sun-drying facilities” among smallholder farms. These investments can improve the quality of the seedlings in coffee-producing regions like Amhara and Oromia.
  4. Government cooperation is critical to success. The organization’s improvements to Ethiopia’s agricultural sector complements Addis Ababa’s new Growth and Transformation Plan to improve agriculture and industrialization. Addis Ababa is also partnered with other organizations like the Gates Foundation to further agricultural development.
  5. The organization is helping to reduce poverty. Feed the Future reports a 12 percent decrease in poverty in the areas where the organization has been active over a two year period (2015-2017). Feed the Future programs target efforts in regions where the poverty rate is 35 percent, on average.

Feed the Future is an American investment. Helping another country boost its economy can result in gains for the United States. Today, 11 of the United States’ top trading partners are previous recipients of USAID and hopefully owing to the efforts of Feed the Future and other organizations, one day, Ethiopia can also join these ranks.

– Rebekah Askew
Photo: Flickr

The Youngest U.S. President: Five Nominants
Next month, when President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in at age 70, he will officially become the oldest U.S. President to take the oath of office. Article two, section one, clause five of the U.S. Constitution states, “…neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of 35 years.”

Since 1789, there have been nine U.S. Presidents inaugurated before their 50th birthday, though none as young as 35. Meet the five youngest U.S. Presidents.

Teddy Roosevelt – 42 years, 322 days (1901-1909)

Roosevelt was sworn in just over one month before his 43rd birthday after the assassination of the 25th U.S. President, William McKinley. After the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt became known for ending a period of isolation and placing the U.S. on the world stage.

Trivia: The Roosevelt Room at the White House was created in 1934 in honor of the youngest U.S. President in the exact location of his original 1902 office.

John F. Kennedy – 43 years, 236 days (1961-1963)

Although only serving two years before his assassination in 1963, Kennedy was the youngest U.S. President ever to be elected to the oval office. In 1961, under Kennedy’s administration, Congress established the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency as a separate entity under the U.S. Department of State’s umbrella.

Trivia: Kennedy attended Harvard University. His application to attend was only five sentences long.

Bill Clinton – 46 years, 149 days (1993-2001)

Clinton was inaugurated in January 1993 on the heels of George H.W. Bush’s peaceful resolution to the conflict between the U.S. and Russia. This made Clinton the first president in nearly a century with little urgency to define U.S. foreign policy with the Soviet Union.

Trivia: Clinton has authored numerous books including his 2007 work about the power of volunteering entitled Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World.

Ulysses S. Grant – 46 years, 311 days (1869-1877)

Taking the oath just shy of his 47th birthday, Grant is the fourth-youngest U.S. President. As the General accredited for leading the Union to victory during the Civil War, Grant is known more for domestic relations than foreign policy. However, he fought in an international conflict under General Zachary Taylor’s command during the Mexican-American War.

Trivia: Both Grant’s mother and father witnessed his inauguration — a first for any U.S. President.

Barack Obama – 47 years, 169 days (2009-2017)

The U.S. President preceding the oldest President-elect also happens to be one of the five youngest U.S. Presidents. Immediately upon taking office, Obama set out to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. He successfully reduced the total number of troops from 160,000 in 2009 to 150 in 2012. Then, in 2014, he restored diplomatic relations with Cuba. This milestone marked a new beginning toward alleviating economic animosity between the U.S. and its island neighbor.

Trivia: During law school, Obama became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. Perhaps this achievement helped set his sights on becoming the first African-American U.S. President.

Ashley Henyan

Photo: Flickr

President Obama's Visit to Greece: Talking Economy and Refugees
As the year comes to a close, President Obama embarks on one last official trip to Europe. One of the stops is Athens, Greece. In his two-day trip, he addresses the future of the country.

President Obama’s visit to Greece sparked a lot of debate about the country’s economic recovery and well as social issues. In the president’s opinion, Greece needs continued debt relief in order to fully stabilize the economy and ensure a prosperous future.

Greece has endured an economic crisis for the past eight years. The crisis began after years of understating the national debt caused the financial markets to deny loan money to the country. By 2010, Greece was moving towards bankruptcy. In order to salvage the economy, Greece received bailouts. As of today, it has been given 274 billion in bailout loans since May 2010. There have also been numerous economic reforms that have caused unrest among the Greek population.

President Obama spoke on the discontent of the Greek people. He argues that other than debt relief, “people need to see hope.” Drawing on the example of Brexit earlier this summer and the recent American election he says, “If people feel that they’re losing control of their future, they will push back.” The “push back” in Greece has been readily present since the beginning of the economic crisis.

The two bailouts given to Greece have come with austerity measures which have been met with anger. The first program included salary cuts of public-sector workers and increase sales tax. The second program increased taxes on certain goods and included pension reforms. As a response, citizens continue to have demonstrations and often clash with law enforcement which has ended in violence.

In anticipation of President Obama’s visit to Greece, a peaceful protest in Athens turned violent when supposed anarchist threw rocks and Molotov cocktails in support of anti-capitalism. “No Hope” was written on buildings.

Nonetheless, President Obama will actively continue to encourage creditors to provide debt relief so Greece can achieve a sustainable economy once again. He also praised Greece for opening up its border to refugees even in the midst of an economic crisis. President Obama said “The Greek people’s generosity towards refugees arriving on your shores has inspired the world. That doesn’t mean that you should be left on your own, and only a truly collective response by Europe and the world can ensure that these desperate people receive the support that they need.”

President Obama’s visit to Greece encouraged continued debt relief to rehabilitate the economy and bring hope to the Greek people.

Karla Umanzor

Photo: Flickr

Obama Administration to Combat Human Trafficking
Established in March 2012, the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF) actively works to alleviate impacts and rates of human trafficking on both domestic and international levels. Initiatives to increase adherence to the rule of law, victim service provisions, analysis of supply and procurement chains and public awareness are central to the mission of the task force.

The task force aims to put an end to human trafficking through coordinated efforts among leaders across the board in dimensions such as academics, religious communities, the private sector and survivors of modern slavery.

In his last address to the PITF during Obama’s administration, Secretary Kerry emphasized the depth of destruction caused by human trafficking’s impact on “every single thing we are trying to accomplish in the field of development.” Kerry also condemned the “multi-billion-dollar criminal enterprise” that is human trafficking, while emphasizing the necessity of mobilizing resources to combat illicit activity.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) resumes responsibility for another anti-human trafficking initiative called the Blue Campaign created during the Obama administration. It acts as a conduit for collaboration between law enforcement, government, non-governmental and private organizations to enhance public awareness and unify investigative efforts.

Created in 2012, the public-private partnership called the Partnership for Freedom is another program developed during the Obama administration. This initiative offers financial support for innovative victim services as well as grants for tech communities to hinder illicit activity.

When the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking was created in 2015, its establishment emboldened invaluable expertise that human trafficking survivors had attained through their experiences. Composed of 11 survivors, these individuals lend policy advice to the PITF, integrating diversity and personal expertise to the future of anti-human trafficking efforts.

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr

Separation of the Philippines
Relations between the United States and the Philippines date back to a time when the U.S. had a special interest in Southeast Asia for military strategy. Despite a rocky start, the Philippines became one of the closest allies of the U.S. after fighting side by side in World War II against Japan.

To facilitate better relations in Southeast Asia, the Obama Administration developed the “Pivot to Asia.” Shifting American foreign policy from the Middle East, without fully withdrawing, getting more involved in an area with closer ties to China.

As a result, the U.S. provided $175 million for development assistance and $50 million in foreign military financing to the Philippines in 2015. The number for military funding is set to more than double in 2016, with around $120 million intended just for the Philippines.

Despite this long partnership and recently increased support, Filipino President Duterte hints at a separation of the Philippines from the U.S. for growing stronger bonds with China. Many in the U.S. Government are deeply troubled by this news as it could radically change the relationship between the two nations.

As recently as 2011, Clinton was in Manila to verbally affirm American support of the Philippines during a dispute with China over ownership of islands in the South China Sea. Senior Diplomat Daniel Russel is set to travel to Manila for clarification on this separation of the Philippines.

President Duterte is known for erratic behavior, leading many to question whether he can follow through on these claims. With such a large portion of the Filipino population still supporting continued relations with the U.S., a divide between the government’s affairs and the will of the Filipino people could be problematic.

The reality may be that this is the beginning of a Chinese plan to remove American military presence in the region by taking the Philippines out of a partnership with the U.S, in hopes that Vietnam and Malaysian would soon follow suit.

Aaron Walsh

Photo: Flickr

Gender Equality
President Obama recently penned an article on gender equality, highlighting the strides made over his past two terms.

President Obama’s article appeared in a recent issue of Glamour Magazine. In it, he detailed the upbringing he had (raised by both his single mother and grandmother) that influenced his feminist views. He also discusses his successes and failures as a father, admitting that there were times when the pressures of raising two daughters often fell to his wife while he was off pursuing his career.

He cites the changes that have already been made in the past 50 years: from women gaining the right to vote to the ability to achieve financial independence, or being nominated as a major party’s presidential candidate for the first time.

Still, there is work to be done.

In the past eight years, during his Presidency, Obama has made concrete steps towards promoting equality amongst all genders. According to a White House press release, President Obama has created the White House Council on Women and Girls, as well as appointed the White House Advisor on Violence against Women, the Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s issues, and two female Supreme Court justices.

Furthermore, when he signed the Affordable Care Act into law, he ensured that insurance companies could no longer charge higher premiums based solely on sex. More recently, with the help of Vice President Joe Biden, Obama has launched the It’s On Us campaign to help change the conversation and stigma surrounding sexual assault.

Obama’s gender equality policies extend beyond the domestic, however. Abroad, he and the First Lady launched Let Girls Learn in March of 2015, which aims to bridge the disconnect between adolescent girls and access to quality education.

Prior to that, in 2011, he announced Executive Order 13595 and the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. This act aims “to support women’s voices and perspectives in decision-making in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity.”

Already, the United Nations’s Millennium Development Goals have achieved equality in primary education for girls and boys. The hope is that the new Sustainable Development Goals (launched in 2015) will take this a step further.

On its website, the U.N. explains why gender equality is so important: “Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.”

Sabrina Santos

Photo: Flickr

Obama Visit to CubaPresident Obama’s visit to Cuba this month will mark the first visit to the Caribbean island by a sitting American president in 88 years.

The trip is part of a series of efforts by Cuba and the U.S., begun in December 2014, to ease restrictions and pave the way for greater cultural and economic exchange.

After announcing his plans, President Obama drew criticism from some American politicians who believe that his administration’s Cuba policy is not sufficiently punitive, according to the New York Times. Others, however, have applauded the president, arguing his diplomacy could spur a period of progress with regard to human rights improvements and poverty alleviation.

Though Cuba’s communist government has long been censured by the international community for human rights violations, the country has made some notable achievements in the past half-century.

According to the Guardian, Cuba has had 100 percent literacy for a long time, and “its health statistics are the envy of many far richer countries.”

Devex, a media platform for the global development community, has also applauded Cuba for its success in lifting many of its poorer citizens out of poverty.

The island’s state-run economy, however, does not seem capable of solving all its problems, according to Devex. Inequality runs rampant despite decades of socialist programming.

This disparity of wealth, along with a growing older population, closed markets and limited availability of advanced technologies and quality food for farmers and other low-income people has begun to overwhelm Cuba’s social protection programs.

Some see Obama’s visit to Cuba as an opportunity to influence President Raul Castro to make necessary changes in addressing these problems.

The New York Times Editorial Board has called on the president to push Castro to “set the stage for a political transition in which all Cubans are given a voice and a vote” as a pretext for liberalizing the economy and respecting human rights.

The editorial adds that the U.S.’s failed efforts to bring about regime change have only hurt Cuba and that more peaceful gestures geared toward self-determination would be more helpful.

Specifically, Obama could negotiate the lifting of trade embargoes as a way of easing the burden on Cuba to supply its citizens with adequate food and other resources.

The United Nations already has a development action framework for the island, which focuses on food security, energy, social services, climate change and disaster response, according to Devex.

These efforts, along with those of big players in the development community, like the World Food Program, would be significantly bolstered by the normalizing of relations between Cuba and the U.S., since freer trade would make the island less dependent on essential goods from more distant nations.

The exact program of President Obama’s visit to Cuba is still open to speculation but the topics most likely to be discussed are trade and tourism. Opening up relations with regard to these areas could be mutually beneficial to both nations.

Joe D’Amore

Sources: BNA, Devex, NY Times 1, NY Times 2, The Guardian

Fiscal Year 2017 BudgetOn Feb. 9, President Obama unveiled the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget, which will allow the U.S. to lead on global issues. The Budget calls for $50.1 billion to go to the Department of State and USAID foreign assistance programming. The Budget will fund several initiatives, with a key focus on aiding those living in extreme poverty.

Government agency USAID has fostered economic growth and strengthened democratic governance in developing nations. The Fiscal Year 2017 Budget enables USAID to double down on these efforts, as it has lifted millions out of extreme poverty. Nearly $3 billion is requested for health programs, $978 million for food security and ending hunger, $376.3 million is to connect and empower Africa and $2.3 billion is requested to promote democratic societies.

Part of the Budget encourages USAID to prevent, mitigate and respond to global humanitarian crises. In order to provide effective responses to developing areas vulnerable to natural disasters, the Budget requests $3.3 million for food supplies in emergencies and for helping victims hurt from the disasters. An additional $107.6 million is also requested to implement democratic processes and prevent conflict during these times and $352.2 million is requested to respond to issues related to climate change.

USAID is instructed through the Budget to utilize the funds for confronting threats to national security and global stability. President Obama’s Budget specifically calls for a strengthening of reforms in Afghanistan and Pakistan, countering Russian aggression, seizing opportunities to promote stability and peace and addressing root causes of migration from Central America. A sum of $2.7 billion will go toward funding these efforts and will address critical issues such as violent extremism and corrupt government institutions.

Aside from the extreme poverty focus, the Budget also intends to prioritize other various global problems. These plans include leading the coalition that will destroy the Islamic State group, mitigating the crisis in Syria and Iraq, securing overseas diplomatic facilities, strengthening the Young Leaders Initiative – which ensures young leaders in areas across Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America have the skills to be productive adults – and more.

The Fiscal Year 2017 Budget focuses heavily on increasing global development. Strengthening our interests and relationships abroad protects Americans, prevents international dilemmas and fosters current development progress.

Kerri Whelan

Sources: 1, 2, USAID
Photo: International Business Times

The recent surge of immigrant children across the U.S.-Mexico border has caused a wave of anger and criticism of the Obama Administration from those who are opposed to immigrants who enter the country illegally.

Despite the fact that President Obama recently asked for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to address border control, Senator Ted Cruz (R- TX) recently accused the President and fellow Democrats of “doing nothing” to stem the flow of immigrants, as well as holding immigrant children for ransom with promises of amnesty.

Cruz’s accusations come in response to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) recent comment that the southwestern border is already secure. The comment angered Cruz, who said that Reid should visit the border himself and then decide whether or not it is secure.

Congress is currently debating the President’s request for $3.7 billion. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said in a press conference that he is not optimistic about the House coming to an agreement but that they will continue to discuss it just the same.

House Republicans think $3.7 billion is too much money, but Democrats believe that the investment needs to be made in order to see a positive change and that trying to accomplish the same goals with less money will not be successful.

House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also stated that House Democrats do not agree with the Republican desire to make changes to a 2008 anti-trafficking law. Currently the law treats unaccompanied children from Mexico differently than unaccompanied children from other Central and South American countries. The law was passed in order to protect immigrant children from sex traffickers and requires that hearings be held for children of non-neighboring countries.

This often leads to these children being housed in the U.S. indefinitely, whereas Mexican children are more likely to be immediately turned away at the border. Republicans would like to see the bill altered so that all unaccompanied children are treated in the same manner.

The problem with court hearings for immigrant children is that courts are so backed up that it can take years for a hearing to take place. Generally, while the children wait for their hearing, they will stay with family or friends, go to school and begin to feel like they belong in America.

When people in Central and South America hear how much easier it is for minors to move to the U.S. than it is for adults, more and more children are sent. Republicans hope that altering this law will result in fewer children journeying north to the border, but Democrats claim that this could be potentially harmful to children who travel a long way.

Between 2002 and 2013, Congress increased spending on border control by 300 percent but only increased immigration court funding by 70 percent, resulting in inefficient court systems. It also begs the question whether or not increased funding for border control is effective or if the government should invest that money elsewhere.

– Taylor Lovett

Sources: Politico 1, Politico 2, CNN