CNN Photos

Laos: Land of bombs

Diego Drudi, an Italian photographer specializing in social themes and with a love of Southeast Asia, became captivated by the lasting effects of war in Laos and the creative response it triggered in the people there.

Laos is widely labeled as the most bombed country per capita. According to the The National Regulatory Authority for the UXO/Mine Action Sector in the Lao PDR the United States dropped 2 million tons of ordinance onto Laos – a bombing mission every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day between 1964 and 1973. The regulatory authority is a public institution of the Laotian government with a stated goal of reducing the threat of unexploded ordinance in the country.

The countryside is littered with unexploded mines, grenades artillery shells, cluster bombs and the remains of other military hardware. The people of Laos began to collect the metal from these leftovers of war. Drudi says they sell some to Vietnam, China and Thailand for about .13 euros a kilogram, or 7 cents a pound. The metal is also used to make everyday items like eating utensils and machetes.

Drudi’s photographs show the bombs to be quite commonplace. They can be seen decorating businesses and residences and used in fences and as supports for buildings. He recounts a day when, while looking for a place to shoot, he passed a “family, mum, dad, three little children and the grandfather, having lunch in [their] yard, and just two meters away from them, in the same courtyard, was a huge 500 kilogram unexploded bomb. “ What seemed surreal to him was their everyday.

“Laos is a wonderful country, with wonderful people. They live only [on] the fruits of their labor on their lands. They have nothing, but they are so happy. They say hello to you every moment, in every place,” he says.

Drudi says the only time he met with any negativity was when he asked people where they found the bombs. “People working with bombs are very suspicious [of] showing the places where they find the bombs. In Laos, collecting, working and selling the remaining bombs is forbidden by law .”

The metal hunters use basic metal detectors to find the bombs and then unearth them using ropes and draft animals like elephants or horses. Drudi says those who gather the metal have developed an expertise at it and consider the risk of injury to be low. However, children and farmers working the land are often victims of the unexploded ordinance. Drudi says about four people die a month from such occurrences.

Drudi says he hopes his work will make people think about what happens when a war is declared over. He says he hopes it will make people see they can reverse bad situations as well as “live and survive.“

- Cody McCloy, CNN