Vietnam-US group seeks $300 mln for dioxin mitigation

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The US-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin has called on the US government and other donors to provide US$300 million to address the lingering effects of the toxic chemical.

The call for funding was made in a report released by the group on June 16.

Released both in Hanoi and Washington D.C., the report suggests that the funds are used over a 10-year period, with most of it used to expand services to people with disabilities linked to dioxin exposure.

The rest could be used to clean dioxin-contaminated soils and restore damaged ecosystems in about two dozen dioxin "hot spots" in Vietnam, along with conducting further joint scientific research into more diseases suspected of links with herbicide exposure.

By the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, nearly 4.8 million Vietnamese people had been exposed to Agent Orange used as a defoliant by the US Army, causing 400,000 deaths, Vietnamese official statistics show.

"We think that this funding is quite modest compared to the suffering of millions of victims," said Ambassador Ngo Quang Xuan, deputy chair of the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Committee and co-chair of the panel, calling the issue "the biggest challenge that hinders our improved bilateral relationship."

According to the report, at least 4.5 million Vietnamese and 2.8 million US military personnel who served in Vietnam from 1962 to 1975 were exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides.

The Vietnam Red Cross estimates that up to three million Vietnamese adults and children have suffered adverse health effects, congenital and development defects due to Agent Orange.

Since 2007, the US Congress has approved about $9 million for dioxin clean-up and related health activities in Vietnam, which Xuan described as "a tiny amount."

Professor Vo Quy, a working group member and a long-time advocate for Agent Orange victims, said continued debate about the adverse effects of the defoliant would not improve the situation, even in the next decade.

"We want to emphasize that these effects are very real and we believe that the US agrees with us," he said. "We don't know if we will get the proposed funding. But we still hope that the figure will double, or even triple."

Starting this year until 2012, the panel has suggested priority be placed on finishing an overview map of the remaining hot spots and surrounding areas, in addition to completing cleanup at the northern end of the Da Nang airport, where dioxin levels in soil, sediment and fish are 300 to 400 times higher than prescribed limits.

"We are talking about something that is a major legacy of the Vietnam War, a major irritant in this important relationship," Walter Isaacson, co-chair of the joint US-Vietnam working group, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. "The cleanup of our mess from the Vietnam War will be far less costly than the Gulf oil spill that BP will have to clean up."

While suggesting the US government should play a key role in providing the proposed funds, group members hope to garner support from the US business and Vietnamese-American communities in America.

The working group, which includes prominent scientists, citizens and policy-makers from both countries, was established in 2007 by the Ford Foundation. The group does not accept, receive or disseminate funds.

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