UN in $5m Agent Orange cleanup for Vietnam

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The United Nations on Monday announced a US$5-million project to clean up wartime contamination in Vietnam from Agent Orange sprayed by the US military, but said much more money was needed.

The project by the UN development agency will focus on contamination at the airport in Bien Hoa, which the UN's resident coordinator, John Hendra, said was the worst-affected site.

Experts have also identified two other former US air bases, at Da Nang and Phu Cat, as key "hotspots" of dioxin contamination. Dioxin was a component of Agent Orange and other herbicides stored at the bases.

US aircraft sprayed the chemicals to strip trees of their foliage during the Vietnam War, depriving the liberation forces of cover and food.

Vietnam blames dioxin for a spate of birth deformities, and it has been linked to cancer.

"The concentration of dioxin in the three main hotspots is much higher than nationally and internationally agreed standards," the UN Development Program (UNDP) said in a statement.

"Without action, the hotspots will continue to contaminate the wider environment and pose a serious health risk to people living and working nearby," it said.

Vietnam's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment will carry out the project, funded by UNDP along with the Global Environment Facility, an independent financial organization.

"The project will use internationally proven techniques to treat and rehabilitate the dioxin hotspots," the UNDP statement said, adding that "significantly more funds will be needed for the full remediation of all dioxin hotspots in Vietnam".

A Vietnamese official said last year that the government had already spent five million dollars to build a landfill for contaminants at Bien Hoa, which is located near the fast-developing southern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City.

Decontaminating all three former bases could cost about US$60 million or more, the official said.

Since 2007, the US Congress has appropriated nine million dollars to help in the clean-up in Vietnam. At Vietnam's request, the United States is focusing its help on the Da Nang site, where operations are expected to begin next year.

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