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The war the United States waged in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos did not end for the people living there when the shooting stopped in 1975. Explosive bombs and mines still prevent people from safely using their land to create better lives for themselves. The dioxin residue left by Agent Orange continues to impact many tens of thousands of people who have been born with severe disabilities. Americans still struggle with the war’s consequences. These consequences limit human capacities, reduce the prospects for sustainable development, and adversely affect the safety and well-being of many families in these former war zones. These war legacies shadow the people of these countries with fear for their families and future generations, just as Agent Orange continues to affect American veterans and their families. Addressing these consequences of war is not just the humanitarian thing to do, it also creates opportunities for mutually beneficial partnerships with our former adversaries.
Overcoming the legacies of war in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos is namely the responsibility of US actors who used chemicals and cluster bombs in Southeast Asia. To date, the US government has spent more than $500 million on remediation of dioxin in Vietnam and clearance of unexploded ordnance and mines in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. More resources need to be dedicated to this effort to remediate and clear the remaining affected areas. Additionally, peoples still affected by these legacies, many of whom live in remote, ethnic upland areas and suffer from debilitating medical conditions and disabilities, can benefit from more impactful health and livelihood support. The War Legacies Working Group combines the collective energies of organizations and individuals working on these issues to inform US congressional and government leaders and the general public about how war legacies programming can help sustain peace, provide pathways to robust livelihoods through converting unusable land into productive agricultural land, and improve diplomatic and economic ties. We hold activities, engage with key government and non-government stakeholders, and educate the public.