International Task Force Reports Progress in Addressing Impact of Dioxin in Vietnam Corrosive Legacy of War Gradually Yielding to Cooperative Healing Effort

February 1, 2008  • Institute Contributor

International Task Force Reports Progress in Addressing Impact of Dioxin in Vietnam Corrosive Legacy of War Gradually Yielding to Cooperative Healing Effort

HANOI, Vietnam, Feb. 1 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Thirty-three years after the end of the Vietnam War, a series of new measures to address the spread and impact of toxic dioxin used in the war are beginning to yield results, according to a high-level working group of Vietnamese and American leaders working to address the legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam.

The US-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin today said that the first round of dioxin containment measures are now in place in and around the Danang airport, one of Vietnam’s largest hot spots of dioxin contamination. After a week of visits across the country, the joint high-level group announced progress on this and a number of other priority issues, including the expansion of services to people with disabilities and key steps toward establishing a high-resolution dioxin testing lab.

“Dioxin has had a profound impact on generations of Vietnamese families,” said Madame Ton Nu Thi Ninh, President of the Founding Committee of Tri Viet University and head of the Vietnamese delegation. “It has devastated lives and the environment for decades. But the initial progress we’re seeing is very heartening. It is a meaningful contribution toward addressing the toxic legacy of the war.”

In the 1960s, more than 21 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides were sprayed by the US to destroy the forest canopy and flush out adversary forces. Decades later, one of the world’s most toxic chemicals, dioxin, is still present in the environment, particularly in the soil around former US military bases. There have been an alarming number of birth defects, cancers and health problems among both American troops and their families and generations of Vietnamese veterans and civilians.

“The old politics of this issue have held back solutions for too long,” said Walter Isaacson, President of the Aspen Institute and leader of the U.S. delegation. “The new measures now in place at Danang show that governments and other partners working together in a practical and humanitarian way can change the dynamics of the issue and bring about real and lasting change.”

The US-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin, funded by the Ford Foundation, brings together policy analysts, scientists, business figures and other leaders from both countries to develop responses to the continuing human and environmental consequences of Agent Orange use during the war.

Launched last June, the group toured Vietnam to assess progress on five initial priorities. At a press conference today, the Dialogue Group detailed early progress:

Expanded services to people with disabilities

A range of health, education and vocational training services is being provided to children and young people with disabilities through pilot programs in the provinces of Thai Binh, Danang and Quang Nam, with a fourth pilot in Dong Nai under development. Additional donors are soon expected to announce support to extend programs to more provinces and greater numbers of people with disabilities.

High resolution Dioxin Laboratory

Committee 33 has completed a detailed proposal for a new laboratory equipped to detect dioxin at the very low concentrations at which it still remains poisonous to people. The Dialogue Group has been working with a number of donors interested in funding this critical project.

Landscape restoration

The Center for Natural Resources and Environment at Vietnam National University-Hanoi is collaborating with agricultural officials and NGOs in two provinces in central Vietnam to return damaged land to productive use. Programs will enable farmers to select and cultivate species of trees and other vegetation appropriate to landscape renewal.

Dioxin remediation at Danang

The first two phases of dioxin remediation at the airport have been completed. In the first phase the nature and extent of dioxin contamination in soils and its migration through the food chain to people in close proximity were documented. In the second phase, interim engineering works on the airport have contained the dioxin to its current location. Prohibiting access to the contaminated areas, including the lake at the north end of the airport, has broken the pathways through which dioxin has posed a threat to public health. Funds are awaited for the third phase–the permanent clean-up of the dioxin.

Public education in the US

The Dialogue Group has generated a series of articles to draw the attention to the legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam — as well as the current breakthroughs and the need for more partners to join the effort. The Aspen Institute, a Washington-based think tank and meeting center, is launching a series of briefings and policy papers to engage key leaders.

To date the Ford Foundation has made the biggest investment in the initiative, committing nearly $5 million. The U.S. Congress has earmarked $3 million for cleanup efforts, but the funds have yet to be released.

“The progress we’ve seen in the last eight months makes a powerful statement. It’s a perfect example of how non-profit, government and business leaders can work together to find common responses to seemingly intractable issues,” said Susan V. Berresford, former president of the Ford Foundation and convener of the Dialogue Group. “There is much more to do, and we look forward to greater involvement and leadership from key players on both sides of the Pacific. We now know that we have a real opportunity to change how this story ends.”

About the Dialogue Group

The Dialogue Group is a non-government initiative that aims to build a collective, bipartisan humanitarian response where diplomatic discussion has proved difficult. It builds on work done by the Vietnamese themselves, the Ford Foundation, the US State Department and Environmental Protection Agency, as well as US and international NGOs, to address dioxin contamination throughout Vietnam.

Former Ford Foundation President Susan V. Berresford is convener and chair of the Dialogue Group. Its Vietnamese and American members include (respectively):

  • Madame Ton Nu Thi Ninh, President, Founding Committee, Tri Viet University Project, and former Ambassador and Vice Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Viet Nam National Assembly
  • Prof. Vo Quy, Center for Natural Resources & Environmental Studies, Vietnam National University, Hanoi
  • Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, Chief of Obstetrics & Gynecology of the Medical University of Ho Chi Minh City and Director-General, Ngoc Tam Hospital Corporation
  • Do Hoang Long, Deputy Director, People to People Relations Department, Party External Relations Commission
  • Lt. General Phung Khac Dang, Vice President, Vietnam Veterans Association
  • Walter Isaacson, President and CEO, The Aspen Institute
  • Mary Dolan-Hogrefe, Vice President and Senior Advisor, National Organization on Disability, and Director, World Committee on Disability
  • William Mayer, President and CEO, Park Avenue Equity Partners, and Chairman Emeritus, the Aspen Institute
  • Dr. Vaughan Turekian, Chief International Officer, American Academy for the Advancement of Science
  • Christine Todd Whitman, former Governor of New Jersey and former cabinet secretary for the US Environmental Protection Agency

About the Aspen Institute
The Aspen Institute, founded in 1950, is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue. Through seminars, policy programs, conferences, and leadership development initiatives, the Institute and its international partners seek to promote nonpartisan inquiry and an appreciation for timeless values. The Institute is headquartered in Washington, DC, and has campuses in Aspen, Colo., and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Its international network includes partner Aspen Institutes in Berlin, Rome, Lyon, Tokyo, New Delhi, and Bucharest, and leadership programs in Africa, Central America, and India.

About the Ford Foundation
The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than half a century it has been a resource for innovative people and institutions worldwide, guided by its goals of strengthening democratic values, reducing poverty and injustice, promoting international cooperation and advancing human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, and Russia.

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