Rebuilding After War in Southern Asia

Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, East Timor, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka

The people of Southern Asia know all too well the devastating effects of war. Whether the images of battle and strife come from stories shared by ancestors, are vivid fresh memories or are still the realities of daily life, all know that both the humanitarian and economic costs of restoration are tremendous.

Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, East Timor, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka

The people of Southern Asia know all too well the devastating effects of war. Whether the images of battle and strife come from stories shared by ancestors, are vivid fresh memories or are still the realities of daily life, all know that both the humanitarian and economic costs of restoration are tremendous.

Today, thirty years after the end of the Vietnam war, so many unexploded cluster bombs and landmines dropped or placed by U.S. military forces remain buried or exposed that safety from these bombs and landmines is a permanent part of the elementary school curriculum in Laos and Cambodia. Sadly, an entire generation of children lives with the daily risks of being maimed or killed by these remnants of a war fought by their grandparents. Millions of these unexploded bombs and landmines cover both agricultural and forested land. Refugees from Vietnam still live in camps in Cambodia, unable to return to their homes because of these dangers. The need to continue rebuilding efforts is almost as acute today as it was immediately following the end of the war and the cost of safe removal of cluster bombs and landmines far exceeds the ability of the country to fund their clearance.


Beyond the daily tension of living with cluster bombs and landmines is the overwhelming task of rebuilding nations whose devastation has left them with no infrastructure and no viable economy to fund a rebuilding effort. In Laos, the average annual income is $320 per person and one quarter of Laotians live on less than one dollar per day. The government, like its people, is overcome by poverty. The nation of Laos is burdened by $2.4 billion of debt, a full 53% of its annual production. In the context of such desperate conditions, many women and children are easy targets for the thriving sex industry in Thailand.

Cambodia, too, struggles with overwhelming debt and poverty. Thirty years of war and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime left a society destroyed on all levels; today, people are just beginning to rebuild communities and set up functional legal systems. Like its neighbors, Vietnam, too, seeks to rebuild its country, with great needs for income-generating opportunities that allow not only for economic support, but also for rehabilitation from the devastating effects of violence.

Sadly, this is not the only war that has affected Southern Asia. After the people of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in August, 1999, the Indonesian army and supporting militias destroyed the infrastructure in East Timor, killing thousands. The East Timor Protestant Church (IPTL) was decimated by this conflict as all but a handful of its more than 200 pastors (most of whom were Indonesian) either fled to Indonesia or were killed. Churches, like most buildings in the country, were destroyed by the scorched-earth rampage of the Indonesian army. This fledgling country, mired in poverty, now struggles to rebuild not only its churches and schools, but also to restore its people who have been deeply wounded by the effects of violence and repression.

UCC and Disciples congregations have sent funds for reconstruction to the IPTL in keeping with the call of the Twenty-second Synod of the United Church of Christ in its resolution, "Affirmation of Partnership with the Protestant Church in East Timor" and the Disciples of Christ General Assembly "Resolution on East Timor" (1999).

Afghanistan, a country nearly destroyed by 25 years of war, has been further victimized by the effects of "Operation Enduring Freedom" during the past year. Five million Afghan people live as refugees or internally displaced persons and one quarter of all children do not survive until their fifth birthday. In 2001, Afghanistan surpassed Cambodia and Laos as the country with the most unexploded cluster bombs and landmines in the world. Although the United States stood as an ally throughout the 1980s while Afghanistan fought a difficult and bloody war with the former Soviet Union, US humanitarian aid tumbled by ninety percent in the 1990s despite the war's lingering effects.

During the 1980s, the United Church of Christ began to support refugees from Afghanistan with funds from One Great Hour of Sharing and in 1987, the Sixteenth General Synod passed a resolution, "Peace in Afghanistan."

In the past year, it appears that peace might finally be realized in Sri Lanka, a country torn by conflict for nearly twenty years. As the issues of a permanent peace are negotiated, aid will be needed to rebuild schools and churches to allow for empowerment and income-generation programs and to ensure that another generation does not suffer the effects of conflict and devastation.

The Indiana/Kentucky Conference of the United Church of Christ, through its partnership with the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India, has written a resolution in support of the peace process in Sri Lanka. This resolution, introduced by Senator Richard Lugar as S. Res. 30, was passed by unanimous consent on August 1, 2002.

Advocacy Opportunities

1. Ensure the effective implementation of S. 1573, the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act of 2001 which provides for funding to support programs to restore dignity and opportunity for women and children following the fall of the Taliban.

2. Write to your congressional representatives urging them to oppose military actions that further victimize innocent families who have suffered the effects of war, in many cases for multiple generations.

3. Engage your congregation in an education/awareness campaign on the effects and removal of landmines. Visit www.landmines.org and www.icbl.org.


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