HANOI, July 31 (Reuters) - At the current pace, it will take 300 years and more than $10 billion to clear Vietnam of left-over bombs, shells and mines, a humanitarian and economic scourge in parts of the country, a senior military officer said on Friday.
With aid, the agency in charge of clearing unexploded ordnance estimated that only about half could be cleared by 2050, said Phan Duc Tuan, an army colonel and deputy head of the military’s engineering command.
On Friday, the agency within the Vietnamese military that oversees clearance of unexploded ordnance and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation released a report detailing the problem in six central provinces that saw some of the heaviest fighting during the decade-long war with the United States.
The report said that since the war ended in 1975, bombs and mines had killed 10,529 people and injured 12,231 in the six provinces, which are situated near the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divided Communist North Vietnam from the U.S.-backed south.
Most of the casualties were men collecting scrap metal, farming or herding, the report found, but many children were also killed or injured playing with unexploded ordnance.
Tuan, whose command oversees the centre charged with clearing unexploded ordnance, said aside from the humanitarian toll, there was also a significant economic impact.
In 2008 alone it cost the government about $69.5 million to clear land for construction projects, he told a news conference.
Unexploded ordnance also hindered infrastructure projects and blocked access to natural resources, said the report, which offered the most detailed data to date on the problem in Vietnam. (Reporting by John Ruwitch; Editing by Alan Raybould and Sanjeev Miglani)