Agent Orange awareness leads to action, says Vietnam professor

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Vietnam's Agent Orange campaign has made the US government start to act, by educating them on the environmental and social impacts in Vietnam, a Vietnamese professor and activist has said.


Professor Vo Quy, lecturer at Vietnam National University-Hanoi and one of the first members of the Vietnam-US Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin, said that dialogues between Vietnam and US activists made progress since 2007, when the group was established.


US President George W. Bush and the US Congress in 2007, for the first time, agreed to allocate US$3 million of their budget to reduce environmental impacts of the dioxin at Da Nang Airport.


"We know that $3 million is not worth anything because it would take more than $40 million to clear the chemical from the airport, but the US government started to admit the Agent Orange issue in Vietnam," Quy told the Tuoi Tre recently, before Vietnam commemorated 50 years of the tragedy this Wednesday.


Since 2009, the US government sent a further $3 million for the chemical clearance at the airport and in 2010 an additional $15 million.


According to Quy, toxicity clearance should be a top priority in the coming time, focusing on the hotspots of Da Nang Airport, Bien Hoa Airport in Dong Nai Province and Phu Cat Airport in Binh Dinh Province, which were used during the Vietnam War.


The job has received financial support from the US. This includes a dioxin study lab to appear in Vietnam later this year, which will facilitate the clearance of the agent and the protection of public health.


Quy said Agent Orange does not leave environmental impacts on the airports only.



Festering wound
The Horror of Agent Orange
There're many areas that were heavily sprayed and the natural resources should be revived for use, he said.


The professor suggested the development of a map showing places contaminated with the agent, as well as a study about the level of new infection to people living in those locations.


At several villages in the central region's Thua Thien-Hue Province, more than 100 people were recently infected with the agent after drinking groundwater in the area, Quy said as an example.


He said his group donated VND1.4 billion to build a clean water system for the area, but more places also need help.


Quy said the group of ten members, including US nutrition, science and social affairs experts, has been invited three times to speak in front of the US Congress about the Agent Orange situation, and after every time, the Congress learns more about the matter.


The US government started to talk beyond the clearance of Agent Orange in Vietnam and mentioned supporting disabled people, including Agent Orange victims.


"It was not easy but they have admitted that there are victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam," he said.


During a recent meeting with Vietnam's Ministry of Defense, Nguyen Van Rinh, chairman of Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA), expressed concern that if Vietnamese government and organizations fail to push the US to act quickly, many victims would die without receiving the support they need.


Quy said that members of the dialogue group are aware of the matter.


In June last year, the group set a plan to raise $300 million in ten years to help Agent Orange victims.


The professor said the fund has received money from many people, including the US government, NGOs and Vietnamese overseas.


In 2011, the US budget allocated $3 million for supporting disabled people in Vietnam, he said.


Many groups of US MPs visited Vietnam last year and expressed their sympathy and wish to solve the Agent Orange problem.


International organizations such as the UNICEF and the United Nations Development Program also provide financial support, he said.


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