Speech at the media information and experience sharing on Dioxin/Agent Orange

22 Apr 2013

Speaker: Mr. Bakhodir Burkhanov, UNDP Deputy Country Director
Date:      Ha Noi, 22 April 2013
Event:     Media Information and Experience Sharing on Dioxin/Agent Orange

Dr. Le Ke Son, Deputy Director General of Viet Nam Environment Administration, and Director of Office 33,
Mr. Eric Frater, Chief of Environment, Science, Technology & Health Unit, Embassy of the United States of America in Ha Noi,
Colleagues from the media agencies,
Ladies and gentlemen:

Let me join Dr. Son in warmly welcoming you to this media information briefing on Dioxin. This initiative is part of a joint effort between UNDP and the National Committee for Overcoming the Consequences of Dioxin to provide information to the public on dioxin contamination and environmental clean-up efforts.

Dioxin is a tragic legacy of war. Forty years have passed since the end of the armed conflict when herbicides were used to defoliate forests and mangroves and to destroy crops. Several of the herbicide mixtures contained a chemical compound called TCDD. They have collectively become known as “Agent Orange”.

Today, heavily contaminated areas are often associated with multiple health problems, including disabilities. There are still two such sites in Viet Nam with the levels of dioxin concentration  hundreds of times the required clean-up level by national and international standards. These two sites, known as dioxin hotspots, are in Bien Hoa and Da Nang.

The environmental clean-up and containment of dioxin hotspots are critical – both for the health and livelihoods of local population and for the environment.

Viet Nam is making considerable efforts to overcome this hazardous remnant of war. The government provides financial and healthcare support to people who have been affected by dioxin. More than 94,000 m3 of dioxin-contaminated soil has been environmentally contained in Bien Hoa airbase using Viet Nam’s own resources.

In 2006, UNDP was the first international agency to start assisting the Government of Vietnam to address the environmental aspects of dioxin. From 2009, the effort continues with a GEF/UNDP project on environmental remediation of dioxin in three hotspots of Phu Cat, Da Nang and Bien Hoa airbases. Today, the Government receives support from several other partners, including the governments of the U.S., Czech Republic and New Zealand. This is very encouraging yet more international assistance is still needed.

Potential partners should know that dioxin de-contamination in Viet Nam is an attainable goal. In 2012, the Phu Cat hotspot was removed from the list of dioxin hotspot. About 7,500 m3 of dioxin-polluted soil had been safely contained in a landfill which was designed in full compliance with national regulations and also meeting international standards.

Furthermore, as an interim solution, construction is underway to prevent spreading of dioxin from Bien Hoa airbase to the surrounding areas. We are also happy to learn that the necessary work for full remediation of Da Nang site is being finalized with the support from the U.S. government.

Ladies and gentlemen:
More research may be needed to determine the full extent of health impacts of dioxin. Ways and risks of getting exposure to this contaminant can however be easily prevented.

All this information and relevant scientific knowledge need to be made available to citizens and other stakeholders in a timely fashion. Media has a critical role to play in disseminating this knowledge to the public.

It is important for local population to be aware of their exposure to dioxin contamination and the risks it carries to their health, well-being and livelihoods. Access to reliable information about this issue serves to strengthen the cooperation between the Government of Viet Nam and development partners and helps them target their programs.

We are very pleased to see many international and national media agencies present here this morning. This is a good opportunity for us to share the up-to-date knowledge, and also a chance to hear from you on how best to communicate this information to those who need it.

Dioxin contamination is a unique issue in Vietnam. It is a significant concern but one that can be overcome through our concerted efforts. We are committed to remediation work in coordination with all partners, and will continue providing vital information for the direct benefit of many Vietnamese.

Xin cam on va chuc suc khoe!