Monday, April 6, 2015

The deadly, horrible mess we made still plagues Indochina
April 30, 2015, marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. As we reflect on the legacies of the Vietnam War, two of the most deadly weapons of war left behind – Agent Orange and unexploded ordnance, called UXO – continue to haunt Indochina.
April 30, 1975, was the day Saigon was taken over by the Viet Cong, following the departure of the United States.
During the war, the U.S. military had used the powerful herbicide and defoliant Agent Orange to spray along the Ho Chi Minh trails in Laos and South Vietnam. Its purpose was to clear away jungle and eliminate Viet Cong hideouts, disrupting the movement of soldiers and food supplies. Years after the war, the people along the trail continue to suffer health maladies and dire consequences, including dioxin poisoning. The Vietnamese government says that dioxin levels remain 100 times higher than the international standards in some of these areas.
The Vietnamese government estimates that there are over 4 million victims of dioxin poisoning, “although the United States government denies any conclusive scientific links between Agent Orange and the Vietnamese victims of dioxin poisoning.”
The Vietnamese Red Cross estimated Agent Orange has affected 3 million people spanning three generations, including at least 150,000 children born with severe birth defects since the war ended.
In August 2012, the U.S. pledged $43 million to fund a joint project with Vietnam to clean up contaminated areas. Though areas of Agent Orange contamination include part of the Ho Chi Minh trail in southern Laos, the joint project between the U.S. and Vietnam does not include Laos. Moreover, the project is only the first small step, as more funds and technical assistance are needed to slowly clean contaminated areas.
It will take generations and billions of dollars to clean the contaminated regions. The willingness and commitment of the United States government to fund this project by providing assistance to victims of Agent Orange and removing UXO is long overdue. Hopefully the U.S. government will provide more funding to clear UXO in Laos and Cambodia as well.

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