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USAID Launches $183mn Cleanup at Vietnam Storage Site for Agent Orange

The spillover from the clearing operation is believed to have seeped beyond the base and into groundwater and rivers, and is linked to severe mental and physical disabilities across generations of Vietnamese

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agent orange
FILE - A Vietnamese soldier stands guard at the dioxin-contaminated area at Bien Hoa airbase, where the U.S. Army stored the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, in Bien Hoa city, outside Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, October 17, 2018. VOA

The U.S. launched on Saturday a $183 million cleanup at a former Vietnam storage site for Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant used in the nations’ bitter war, which years later is still blamed for severe birth defects, cancers and disabilities.

Located outside Ho Chi Minh City, Bien Hoa air base — the latest site scheduled for rehabilitation after Danang air base’s cleanup last year — was one of the main storage grounds for Agent Orange and was only hastily cleared by soldiers near the war’s end more than four decades ago.

U.S. forces sprayed 80 million liters (21 million gallons) of Agent Orange over South Vietnam between 1962 and 1971 in a desperate bid to flush out Viet Cong communist guerrillas by depriving them of tree cover and food.

agent orange
US Arm APC spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam. Wikimedia

The spillover from the clearing operation is believed to have seeped beyond the base and into groundwater and rivers, and is linked to severe mental and physical disabilities across generations of Vietnamese — from enlarged heads to deformed limbs.

Largest ‘hot spot’ left

At Bien Hoa, more than 500,000 cubic meters of dioxin had contaminated the soil and sediment, making it the “largest remaining hot spot” in Vietnam, said a statement from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which kicked off a 10-year remediation effort Saturday.

The dioxin amounts in Bien Hoa are four times more than the volume cleaned up at Danang airport, a six-year, $110 million effort that was completed in November.

“The fact that two former foes are now partnering on such a complex task is nothing short of historic,” said the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, Daniel Kritenbrink, at Saturday morning’s launch, which was attended by Vietnamese military officials and U.S. senators.

USAID, agent orange
USAID Launches Latest Cleanup of Agent Orange Site. Wikimedia

Hanoi says up to 3 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, and that 1 million suffer grave health repercussions today — including at least 150,000 children with birth defects.

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An attempt by Vietnamese victims to obtain compensation from the United States has met with little success. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 declined to take up the case, while neither the U.S. government nor the manufacturers of the chemical have ever admitted liability.

While U.S. officials have never admitted direct links between Agent Orange and birth defects, USAID on Saturday also issued a “memorandum of intent” to work with government agencies to improve the lives of people with disabilities in seven Vietnamese provinces. (VOA)

Next Story

Vietnam and Australia to Start Collaborating on Science Initiatives

The winning teams are three different pairs of universities, one from Vietnam and one from Australia, that will work together

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Vietnam, Australia, Science
In the Pacific Ocean, a sea cucumber deploys its upright 'sail' to use current energy to transport itself along the sea floor. VOA

From sea cucumbers to cancer research, Vietnam and Australia will start collaborating on science initiatives that are meant to show how innovation can be used to spread out the benefits of economic growth evenly to more of the population.

The Australian government has given more than 1.6 million Australian dollars to the three winners of a competition it co hosted with the Ministry of Science and Technology of Vietnam as part of its so-called Aus4Innovation program. The winning teams are three different pairs of universities, one from Vietnam and one from Australia, that will work together on scientific research.

“The innovation partnership between Australia and Vietnam has proven to be an effective mechanism for the two countries to share best practice and models to enhance the innovation systems in both countries,” Vice Minister Bui The Duy from the Ministry of Science and Technology said at the award ceremony in Hanoi last week. “We hope grants provided under the Aus4Innovation program will set examples of how innovation – particularly when it can jointly [be] developed and implemented – can transform our society and deliver economic, social and environmental sustainability.”

One of the grants will center around sea cucumbers, a long spindly marine animal commonly cooked in Asian cuisine, whether fried on their own, or braised with mushrooms and Chinese broccoli. Scientists who received the grant are researching how to produce a hormone they believe can increase the productivity of sea cucumber farming. This matters to Vietnam because it wants its farmers to increase productivity so they can make a sustainable living while not draining so many resources  to harm the environment. At the same time, this product could raise questions of nutritional ethics among those who want minimal hormone and other human intervention in their food.

Vietnam, Australia, Science
The Australian government has given more than 1.6 million Australian dollars to the three winners of a competition it co hosted with the Ministry of Science and Technology of Vietnam. Pixabay

The grant recipients are researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) in Australia and the Research Institute for Aquaculture No. Three (RIA3) in Nha Trang, a touristic beach town along Vietnam’s south central coast known for its many islands.

They competed among 115 groups in Vietnam that applied for the grants and were selected based on their “potential positive economic and social impacts,” the Australian embassy in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, said in a press release.

Another of the three winners is a collaboration between the University of Sydney and the National Health Strategy and Policy Institute (NHSPI) in Vietnam, which are working on a way to improve methods to diagnose breast cancer.

Finally, one of the winning teams will use technology considered part of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” to improve water supply monitoring and treatment. The specific technology was not described, but considering the application, this likely means “internet of things” devices, which are devices such as sensors that have chips to connect them to the internet, so data can be collected. The team is from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the Vietnamese National University of Engineering and Technology (VNU-UET).

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“Deeper, stronger ties between our innovation systems is a key goal for our strategic partnership with Vietnam,” Rebecca Bryant, a charge d’affaires at the Australian embassy, said. “I’m delighted to see more and more collaboration between the research institutions of our two countries.” (VOA)