Seven people have been killed in Bangkok after a suspected World War Two (WWII) bomb being smelted for scrap metal detonated, destroying a warehouse in the process. Found on a construction site and believed to be empty, the bomb was sold to the scrapyard with good intentions but the transaction entailed catastrophic consequences.
Nearly 70 years after WWII ended such incidents, if not common, are a constant hazard in areas historically subjected to military bombardment. In January, a JCB operator accidentally detonated a bomb in Euskirchen, West Germany, resulting in his death. In March, a WWI shell killed two construction workers near Ypres, Belgium, the site of heavy trench warfare a century ago.
Whilst the likelihood of first uncovering and then detonating Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) from past conflicts is slim in most parts of the world, complacency has to be avoided. The potential ramifications, as shown by the three examples that have already occurred this year, are devastating.
UXO like mortars, grenades and mines litter former war zones and training areas, whilst even UXBs that have been buried for over half-a-century can remain volatile, as shown by the controlled detonation of a 550lb bomb that shattered windows across a busy Munich district in 2012.
Southeast Asia is particularly vulnerable to the accidental detonation of UXO. Vietnam and Laos were carpet-bombed by American forces in the 1960s and ’70s, whereas Cambodia has a deadly landmine legacy stemming from the days of the Khmer Rouge.
Thailand, having been complicit with the Japanese after their invasion in 1941, was subjected to Allied bombing in WWII, with Bangkok the heaviest hit.
Wherever one digs it is worth considering the past. Whilst it is unnecessary for construction companies to spend a fortune mitigating a risk that might not be present, a detailed assessment of the potential hazard posed by UXO is a practicable way forward, especially in areas that are known to have a significant military history.
Unfortunately in poorer countries like Thailand, such risk assessment is often overlooked altogether and, as such, tragic accidents like today will continue to occur.