Agent Orange in Vietnam Program

The U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin

Dialogue Group Policy Papers

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  • Susan V. Berresford, Convener; former President, The Ford Foundation

Members from the United States:

  • Walter Isaacson, American Co-Chair; President & CEO, The Aspen Institute
  • Christine Todd Whitman, President, Whitman Strategy Group
  • William Mayer, President & CEO, Park Avenue Equity Partners
  • Mary Dolan-Hogrefe, Vice President and Senior Advisor, National Organization on Disability
  • Dr. Vaughan Turekian, Chief International Officer, American Association for the Advancement of Science

 Members from Vietnam:

  • Ambassador Ha Huy Thong, Vietnamese Co-Chair; Vice Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, National Assembly
  • Professor Vo Quy, Center for Natural Resources & Environmental Studies, Vietnam National University
  • Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, Chief, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Medical University of Ho Chi Minh City
  • Do Hoang Long, Director, People to People Relations Department, Party External Relations Committee
  • Lt. General Phung Khac Dang, Vice President, Vietnam Veterans Association

Download this member list in English or Tiếng Việt

Background

The idea for a citizen-to-citizen dialogue on Agent Orange was first explored in 2006 by the Ford Foundation. The idea was that a group of this kind could raise the awareness of people in the United States, including U.S. officials and business leaders, about this last and troubling legacy of the Vietnam war. It was formally established in February 2007 as an initiative of prominent private citizens, scientists and policy-makers on both sides, working on issues that the two countries’ governments have found difficult to address. It is not an implementing agency or a fundraising organization. 

Its role has been to call attention to five priority tasks  to be undertaken in a humanitarian spirit: establish treatment and education centers for Vietnamese with disabilities; cooperate with the U.S. and Vietnamese governments to contain and clean up dioxin, beginning at three priority airport “hot spots”; set up a modern dioxin testing laboratory in Vietnam; foster programs for training of trainers in restoration and management of damaged landscapes; and educate the U.S. public on the issues.

 Five Priority Tasks: There is progress to report on all five tasks. 

1) Centers of rehabilitation have been created for people affected by Agent Orange to restore their abilities, support their families, and create favorable conditions for them to enjoy education and training. Health care and vocational training pilot programs are operating in Thai Binh, Da Nang and Quang Ngai within the “Support Network for People with Disabilities” program of the East Meets West Foundation. Children of Vietnam is working with local authorities in Da Nang on its “Hope System of Care” program. Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation provides health care, vocational training and social inclusion programs to raise living standards for people with disabilities and residents of dioxin hotspots in six provinces. Vietnam Assistance for the Handicapped is upgrading community-based care in Binh Dinh, Kon Tum and Da Nang. These and similar programs are valuable but further resources are needed. 

2) Cooperation between the U.S. and Vietnamese governments has expanded on efforts to contain and clean up dioxin at three priority airport “hot spots.” The first two of three steps needed to remediate the environment are complete at the Da Nang airbase. These are measurement of dioxin contamination in land and in food supplies and containment of dioxin sediments in the northern part of the base. A cement cap now covers the most contaminated soils; a filter tank traps runoff carrying contaminated soils from adjacent areas; and a permanent wall along the airport’s north side prevents people entering the area and using the ponds. The third step is to clean up the dioxin, which is expected to begin in 2012. Additional financial support is required to complete the remediation of all three hot spots. 

3) An high-resolution dioxin laboratory has been opened in Hanoi. The Dialogue Group attracted support from The Atlantic Philanthropies and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the amount of $5.4 million toward the total of $6.75 million needed to create a state-of-the-art Vietnam Persistent Organic Pollutants Laboratory. The Vietnam government is funding the balance, and the facility opened in January 2011. It will be a cornerstone of Vietnam’s environmental management efforts, allowing accurate assessment of dioxin and similar organic pollutants in soil, sediments, and human tissue. It will benefit future generations of Vietnamese as well as people currently affected. 

4) Programs for training of trainers in restoration and management of damaged landscapes have begun. The Dialogue Group backed the idea of training programs on ways to restore and reuse lands degraded by the herbicide spraying. The Center for Resources and Environment Studies at Hanoi National University successfully introduced this approach with farmers, technical experts and officials in Quang Tri province and has extended it to Thua Thien Hue province. This initial work may be replicated in more areas across Vietnam when new support is available. 

5) In the United States, a humanitarian approach to Agent Orange/dioxin is gaining supporters. The Dialogue Group has convened five meetings that have yielded reports on various aspects of the situation in Vietnam. U.S. Dialogue Group partners are working to educate U.S. policymakers, Members of Congress, international organizations, businesses and others who might provide financial resources and expertise. 

Declaration & Plan of Action: To further focus these efforts, on June 16, 2010 the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin released a ten year Plan of Action with these words: 

“In the 35 years since the end of the war, the United States and Vietnam have made great progress toward friendly relations. But the war reverberates today in the lives of millions of Americans and Vietnamese. These include people affected then and now, directly and indirectly, by the U.S. spraying of Agent Orange and other herbicides over rural South Vietnam. 

“This grim legacy hinders improved U.S. relations with Vietnam. Questions of responsibility, awareness and data reliability have for too long generated bitter controversy and stalled research and remedial action. A majority of Americans who have been polled to date agree that it is time to lay those issues aside. 

“We therefore call upon the United States to join with the Vietnamese to fund a comprehensive and humanitarian effort to resolve the legacy of Agent Orange/dioxin in Vietnam. 

The Plan of Action aims to achieve two goals over the next ten years: 

  • Clean dioxin-contaminated soils and restore damaged ecosystems; and
  • Expand services to people with disabilities linked to dioxin, and to people with other forms of disability, and to their families.

 

The components of the Plan offer a significant part of the long-term solution to the Agent Orange/dioxin legacy in Vietnam.  The Plan projects them to cost $300 million over the next ten years or $30 million per year. The U.S. government should play a key role in meeting these costs, along with other public and private donors, supplementing an appropriate continuing investment from the government and the people of Vietnam. These funds are not yet in hand; they will need to be raised through continuing representations to donors.  

Current Status of Funding:  In July 2011 the Dialogue Group issued its First Year Report on progress since the release of its Declaration and Plan of Action.  The following table shows data from available sources on funds that have been raised for dioxin clean up and services for people with disabilities in Vietnam from the establishment of the Dialogue Group in 2007 through May 2010 and since the Dialogue Group’s Plan of Action was released a year ago.

 

During the year the U.S. Congress appropriated an additional $15.5 million which with other U.S. government funds will cover the costs of the project to completely clean up the dioxin at the Da Nang airport.  Clean-up of the other two major dioxin hotspots can now be expected and the public health risk they represent can be brought to an end. This is good news and worth celebrating.  The Dialogue Group will now focus on the principal remaining challenge-- bringing services and opportunities to people with disabilities linked to dioxin, and to people with other forms of disability.  

To address the needs of people with disabilities, the U.S. Congress has also appropriated $3.0 million in new funds this year.  Other donors, responding to the framework provided by the Dialogue Group’s Plan of Action, have provided a further $1.6 million in new funds for such programs. These new funds for services and clean-up total $20 million. By contrast, funds raised for Agent Orange work averaged $17 million in each of the three preceding years. This increase is good news. On the other hand, the $20 million is just two-thirds of the amount called for in the first year of the Plan of Action.  

Next Steps:  In the year ahead, the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group calls for all stakeholders to continue and expand the work they have already begun to provide services in all parts of the country to people with disabilities linked to dioxin, to people with other forms of disability, and to their families.  Similarly, agroforestry and afforestation projects should be spread from Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue provinces for sustainable reuse of damaged landscapes in other areas. 

The Dialogue Group also recognizes the growing partnership between the United States and Vietnam which is now delivering real measures to address the legacy of Agent Orange. On the first anniversary of the Dialogue Group’s Plan of Action, it now appears possible for the U.S. and Vietnamese governments to work together along with other stakeholders to address comprehensively the needs at the three former U.S. airbases where dioxin levels are particularly high –Da Nang, Bien Hoa and Phu Cat –and in the communities surrounding these airbases. Other stakeholders include the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group, the UN system, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), U.S. and Vietnamese businesses, and U.S. civic and religious leaders. 

Work in Da Nang has established a tradition of cooperation that can now be further expanded and deepened in Da Nang and applied to the two other sites. The work would focus high-quality and comprehensive attention to all aspects of the Agent Orange legacy at these locations, reduce bilateral tensions surrounding Agent Orange, and further build Vietnam’s technical and scientific capabilities and scientific cooperation between our two nations. The work at the three sites is planned to be completed by 2015 and would represent a significant accomplishment. 

Download this Dialogue Group fact sheet in English or Tiếng Việt

For More Information Contact: Janice Joseph at the Aspen Institute Agent Orange in Vietnam Program, 477 Madison Avenue Suite 730 New York, NY 10022. janice.joseph@aspeninstitute.org, 212 895-8000