We first discovered this work after it was submitted to the Visual Storytelling Awards 2014. Although it was not chosen as a finalist by the jury, the editors of LensCulture were impressed and decided to publish this feature article about it. Enjoy!

In Laos, some 80 million unexploded bombs, or UXO’s, still await detonation. On both sides of the Ho Chi Minh trails, behind every rocky outcrop and sunken waterhole, invisible lines and tangents mark the endless minefields. To cross a certain line might invite a whole new destiny—even death. Yet this is how the people of this tiny, Southeast Asian country live today.

As the world’s eyes were fixed on the Vietnam War, the CIA secretly bombed neighboring Laos. The bombing was an attempt to disrupt North Vietnamese supply routes on the Ho Chi Minh trails, and despite lasting from 1963-1972, these events have left a significant impact on the country. Over 250 million bombs were unleashed, making it the most heavily bombed country on Earth—more ordnance was dropped on the small country than was dropped through the entire Second World War. And all this even though Laos and the US weren’t even at war.

Today, the remaining bombs kill an average of one person per day, mostly children. Many locals fear plowing their own fields (in a country where 4/5 of the population are farmers) and the poor attempt to gather the bombs to sell as scrap metal to buy food—but often end up killing themselves in the process.

Every year, the rainy monsoon season further transports the bombs to new areas, contaminating more farmland, and hindering socioeconomic development. UXO Laos, the national de-mining organization, has cleared less than 1% of the bombed areas. The process is difficult and expensive, and Laos remains poor. According to UXO Laos, it will be another 150 years before Laos is cleared.

To put it differently—the last victim of the CIA’s secret war hasn’t even been born yet.

—Lars Just