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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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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)

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Vietnam Goal of Building a Digital Economy

In the report titled "Vietnam's Future Digital Economy: Toward 2030 and 2045," the four scenarios offer a blueprint for policymakers

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digital economy, vietnam
Nano and other smart technology are increasingly common in TVs in Vietnam, which hopes to make tech a bigger part of its economy. (Ha Nguyen for VOA)

Nations racing to develop 5G technology that is fast enough to power the next stage of innovation range from South Korea to Finland, but a young contender wants to jump into the game: Vietnam.

The Southeast Asian country announced with much fanfare this month that a test of fifth generation telecommunications technology, in the form of a phone call, was successful. The call to test 5G matters, not just for the internet, but for Vietnam’s goal of building a digital economy.

That future economy could be filled with deliveries by drone, machine learning to detect cyber attacks, and digital health records — or the economy could stick to traditional businesses like agriculture and tourism, as a new government report lays out.

vietnam, digital economy
If Vietnam does not move quickly enough to embrace a digital economy, it will continue to rely on traditional sectors like agricultural products, a new report says. (Ha Nguyen for VOA)

Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology jointly launched a report on the digital economy with its Australian counterpart Wednesday, laying out four possible scenarios. Each scenario is at a different level of digitalization, depending on how thoroughly Vietnam adopts new technology.

“I request industries and provinces to improve their awareness of, and responsibility in, steering the science and technology development, and continue to strengthen the relevant legal and policy framework,” Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said in a speech.

“It is critical to focus on the development of the national innovation system,” he added, “putting the businesses at the heart of this system while promoting the linkages among research institutes, universities, and businesses to create and accumulate intellectual assets to fuel economic development in a rapid, inclusive, and sustainable manner.”

In the report titled “Vietnam’s Future Digital Economy: Toward 2030 and 2045,” the four scenarios offer a blueprint for policymakers.

vietnam, digital economy
Traditional video games are getting a tech upgrade, with major Vietnamese startup VNG working on virtual reality gaming. (Ha Nguyen for VOA)

In the first option, the country reaches its full technological potential in the next two decades, with smart cities, high productivity, and high-skilled talent in an economy geared toward services.

In the second scenario, little has changed in that time, with the economy relying on cash and low-wage labor to export farmed goods and natural resources.

Those are the two extremes, while the two remaining scenarios fall somewhere in between, depending on whether Vietnam is more technology consumer or exporter.

“The next wave of digital technologies — artificial intelligence, blockchain, the internet of things, and platforms and cloud-based services — has the potential to transform Vietnam into Asia’s next high-performing economy,” said Lucy Cameron, the lead author of the report. “Vietnam will need to seize these substantial opportunities while carefully navigating a number of risks.” There are signs the digital technology is already catching on in Vietnam.

vietnam, digital economy
FILE – Internet users browse internet near an advertising billboard for 4G connection service at a bus-stop in Hanoi, Vietnam. VOA

Besides the research and development of 5G, companies are using robots in their warehouses, like the country’s largest dairy, Vinamilk, and DB Schenker, a German logistics firm operating in Vietnam. FPT, a domestic electronics business, used artificial intelligence to create a chat bot and made it available to third-party software developers. The gaming startup VNG is introducing virtual reality to its players.

It is not all good news. The rise of ride-hailing apps has been linked to a drop in the use of public transit around the world, and that is happening in Vietnam, too. Local press recently reported a decline in bus use, while the increase of ride hailing has led to clogged city streets.

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Even in a best case scenario, there are four potential drawbacks to an increasingly connected Vietnam, according to the report, which is supported by CSIRO’s Data61, the data and digital specialist arm of Australia’s national science agency. They include more threats to cyber security, higher borrowing to fund infrastructure and technological spending, a shortage of technical talent, and reliance on external companies for products and services. How far Vietnam takes its technological evolution, of course, is up to Vietnam. (VOA)