A VISIT TO THE CENTRE FOR VICTIMS OF AGENT ORANGE IN DA NANG CITY, VIETNAM
My colleague Patrick Butler and I spent 9 days in Vietnam in January, recording a TV documentary about the legacy of Agent Orange and the Vietnam/American War, due to be broadcast on RTE later this year. The trip was funded by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund.
Five days into the trip, we travelled to the centre of the country, to the heart of what was the DMZ or demilitarized zone. This area was heavily carpet bombed by the Americans during the war – the Vietnamese call it the American War – and is also at the epicentre of the worst damage caused by the herbicide Agent Orange, which was sprayed on crops and jungles to destroy crops and eliminate cover for the enemy.
Da Nang airport is adjacent to the former American Airbase, where the chemical herbicide was stored, and where the area is still so contaminated, you can smell the chemical when you go up close. The American Military are now trying to decontaminate the area, by literally removing the most poisoned soil and burying it elsewhere.
But the land is still toxic, and there’s a considerable worry that the fish, animals and soil continue to poison. Children are still being born with defects associated with the chemical.
We visited an Irish-Aid funded Centre, for victims of Agent Orange. They call these small centres “Peace Villages”; they provide education and skills training for mainly teenage victims. You could ask why there are still victims when the war ended in the late 60s, but Agent Orange is like Vietnam’s Chernobyl – the poisonous dioxins in the herbicide killed and injured thousands when they came in contact with it, but it also seems to have damaged human DNA. Within a few years of the war ending, many children of both American veterans who’d returned home, and the local populations sprayed with the herbicide, were born with terrible birth defects – deformed limbs, spine damage, brain defects, deafness, blindness, and skin diseases.
The campaign for compensation has hit a legal wall in the US, although US veterans’ families have had their damages recognised. Disability continues to be a major issue in Vietnam, highlighted by Irish musician Mick Moloney. There’ll be lots more about that in the TV documentary.
This is the story of one grandmother, whom we met at the Centre. Click the link below to the World Report audio essay which was broadcast last Sunday on RTE Radio One.