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NEWS UPDATES 18 June 2010

U.S. $300 million to cope with Vietnam’s Agent Orange

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Thirty-five years after the Vietnam War, a $300 million price tag has been placed on the most contentious legacy still tainting U.S.-Vietnam relations, according to the Associated Press.

A joint panel of U.S. and Vietnamese policymakers, citizens and scientists released an action plan Wednesday, urging the U.S. government and other donors to provide an estimated $30 million annually over 10 years to clean up sites still contaminated by dioxin, a toxic chemical used in the defoliant.

The funding would also be used to treat Vietnamese suffering from disabilities, including those believed linked to exposure to Agent Orange, which was dumped by the U.S. military in vast quantities over former South Vietnam to destroy crops and jungle cover shielding communist guerrilla fighters.

Washington has been slow to address the issue, quibbling for years with its former foe over the need for more scientific research to show that the herbicide sprayed by U.S. aircraft during the war caused health problems and birth defects among Vietnamese.

"We are talking about something that is a major legacy of the Vietnam War, a major irritant in this important relationship," said Walter Isaacson, co-chair of the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin that released the report. "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."

The dialogue group was formed in 2007 to look for ways to address the lingering issue. It is supported by the nonprofit Ford Foundation and coordinated by the nonprofit Aspen Institute.

Their report said nearly $100 million was needed to restore damaged ecosystems and clean up dioxin-contaminated sites, with priority given to three former U.S. air bases in the central city of Danang, and the southern locations of Bien Hoa and Phu Cat — hot spots where Agent Orange was mixed, stored and loaded onto planes during the war, allowing spilled dioxin to seep into the soil and water systems.

Another $200 million would be devoted to expanding care and treatment for Vietnamese with disabilities, including those believed caused by dioxin.

Isaacson said he was hopeful the U.S. government will provide at least half the $300 million needed by 2020, with corporations, foundations and other donors supplying the rest.


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