Warning Systems Still Not Built in Vietnam Provinces Hit by Toxic Waste Spill

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A man walks among dead fish lying on a beach in Vietnam's Quang Binh province, April 20, 2016.

Coastal warning systems ordered for four Vietnamese provinces hit three years ago by a massive spill of toxic waste are still not in place due to a hold-up in the distribution of funds for their construction, state media say.

And even if the funds are now released, they will have come too late to do the work, which was mandated by Vietnam’s central government for completion by the end of this year, according to reports.

In April 2016, a toxic-waste spill by a steel plant owned by Formosa Plastics Group, a large Taiwan-owned industrial conglomerate, devastated more than a hundred miles of coastline in four central provinces of Vietnam.

The disaster destroyed livelihoods across Vietnam’s central coast and led to widespread protests and arrests in affected provinces.

A monitoring and warning system to prevent pollution from future spills was to have been built with VND 200 billion (U.S. $8,618,598) offered in compensation by the Formosa firm, with VND 70 billion going to Ha Tinh province, VND 40 billion going each to Quang Tri and to Thua Thien-Hue, and the remainder going to Quang Binh.

Provincial authorities have now asked for a postponement of the plan’s completion until 2021, however, as no money has been received to do the work, media sources say.

Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, Vietnamese journalist Minh Hai said that construction should be completed as soon as possible, citing possible harm in future to the livelihoods of fishermen along the coast.

“Not having an early warning system is a disadvantage to the fishermen, as not only will this present generation have to suffer from the impact [of pollution] on the sea environment, but future generations will have to suffer the bad effects as well,” he said.

Funding for improvements

Meanwhile, similar systems designed to monitor air pollution and water-source contamination have already been built in the capital Hanoi and in other provinces, but need more funding for improvements, sources told RFA.

“It is the policy of the state and the Ministries of Natural Resources and the Environment and of Science and Technology to build these environmental monitoring stations,” said Pham Viet Cuong, head of the Science Research Institute in Hue.

“These kinds of stations have long been in operation, but new plans are now needed to strengthen their efficiency,” Pham said, adding however that Vietnam’s government should not be blamed for delays in building new systems.

Government plans to avert environmental disasters are often hampered by “short-term vision,” though, said former Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Dang Hung Vo, also speaking to RFA.

“Owing to difficult situations, short-term visions always get more attention than long-term ones,” Dang said, adding that long-term planning requires greater investments of funds.

“Vietnam always acts like it is putting out fires, creating solutions only after incidents have occurred,” he said.

Vietnam already has the right policies in place, he said. What is needed now is to push forward with plans for the longer term.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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