The modest Agent Orange aid from the US should go directly toward cleaning the environment instead of expensive scientific studies, Madame Ton Nu Thi Ninh has said.
Ninh, former vice chair of the parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs, said that as far as she knew, very little of the first US$3 million in Agent Orange-related aid earmarked for Vietnam by the US administration had benefited Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide used by the US army during the Vietnam War.
The US government has so far pledged a total of $6 million toward helping clean up the remnants of the dioxin-laden defoliant in Vietnam. But Ninh argues most of the money has gone towards studies rather than to ridding the environment of the poison.
"I think it is time to expect a more transparent use of the financial assistance. Too much of the money has been spent on expensive research," Ninh told Thanh Nien Daily.
The US-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin, of which Ninh was also the former co-chair, would continue to push the US Congress and government for more efficient disbursement of the aid, Ninh said.
"But it will not be an easy task," she admitted.
Dr. Wayne Dwernychuk, a former senior environmental scientist with Hatfield Consultants, had also said more human health studies were not needed to determine the dangers to people in Vietnam.
"My point has always been ... that the toxicity and potential health issues related to dioxin are not really disputed," Dwernychuk said in an email interview with Thanh Nien Daily Friday.
"With this as a firm background, removing the exposure potential for hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese to dioxin contaminated lands/food/sediments should be the primary goal," he said.
"If there is enough funds, which I can almost guarantee there won't be, health studies on the Vietnamese population could proceed."
Call to action
Madame Ninh also stressed the importance of further enlisting the international community, and her own government, in helping Vietnam handle the consequences of Agent Orange.
"It would be very rigid to say that repairing the damage of Agent Orange is the sole responsibility of the US. Vietnam should welcome anyone who would be willing to help," Ninh said.
The US government would have to shoulder the main responsibility in redressing the consequences of Agent Orange, but the Vietnamese government should keep the momentum of its intervention and remediation efforts, said Ninh.
She said some would reject this viewpoint by arguing that the US should have to bear the entire responsibility for its wrongdoings in the past.
"But from a humanitarian standpoint, [the Vietnamese government] needs to pursue its ongoing efforts, all the more so because the US has been slow to act," Ninh said.
"While the campaign for justice is going on, the Vietnamese government, local charity organizations, and every Vietnamese citizen should do whatever they can to minimize the agonies of the Agent Orange victims as well as restore the environment."
JUSTICE AND THE HEART
The People's Aid Coordinating Committee under Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations will hold a charity function for Vietnamese Agent Orange Victims tonight in Hanoi.
The meeting, entitled "The Justice and the Heart" begins at 8:30 p.m. at the Hanoi Culture Palace in Hanoi to commemorate the Day for Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange, August 10.
The event, to be broadcast live on VTV1 and VTV4 channels, aims bring party leaders, government officials, diplomats and local artists together in solidarity with the victims.
Funds raised at the event will go to funding the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin's campaign to build 55 half-day care centers for AO-affected children and 550 charity houses. The campaign also aims to fund 1,100 scholarships for Agent Orange-affected children and 1,100 employment grants. (By Huong Le)