>Date: Sun, 8 Oct 2000 >From: IGC News Desk <email@example.com> >Subject: VIETNAM: After Three Decades, Agent Orange Still Harms Children > > *** 06-Oct-0* *** > >Title: VIETNAM: After Three Decades, Agent Orange Still Harms Children > >By Tran Dinh Thanh Lam > >BEN CAU, Vietnam, Oct 6 (IPS) - ''I don't want my son to become a >public attraction,'' Doan Ngoc Thanh says angrily, waving his >hands to stop a photographer from taking a picture of his 10-year- >old son. > >The boy has an abnormally big head for his slender body, which >lies in bed most of the time. > >Living in a small, remote village here in Ben Cau district, Tay >Ninh province in south-west Vietnam, he is one of the many victims >of the destructive legacy of the herbicide Agent Orange, sprayed >by U.S. planes during the Vietnam War. > >Tay Ninh shares a 240-km border with Cambodia, where fierce >battles took place during the war and tens of thousands of tonnes >of chemicals were dropped to destroy vegetation in the jungles to >flush out communist fighters. > >Doan Ngoc Thanh and his wife Nguyen Thi Lanh were both former >guerrillas at Ben Cau. Lanh's blood was found to have high dioxin >levels, while Thanh's skin is pockmarked with scabs and scars. He >too has high levels of dioxin. > >But it is their son Thang (which means victory in Vietnamese), >who was born on the 15th anniversary of North Vietnam's victory >over U.S.-backed South Vietnam, who bears the most severe impact >of Agent Orange. > >The dioxin, known to cause birth defects like malformed limbs >and mental retardation, is said to affect a million victims in >Vietnam today. > >Vietnamese officials also blame the chemical for causing >cancer, immune-deficiency diseases and drug-resistant malaria. > >Like many parents of children affected by Agent Orange, Thanh >is tired of official delegations coming to ''investigate'' their >conditions. ''They come and ask lots of question, take lots of >photos, make lots of promises,'' he says. > >In the last 10 years, Thanh's family has met more than a dozen >''very important delegations'', including some foreigners. > >''They gave us nothing but promises,'' a disappointed Thanh >complains. ''I'd rather work on my plot of land to earn something >than play host to all these guests who come only for political >purposes.'' > >The Vietnam War ended 25 years ago, but still claims victims >today through genetic mutations in the children of soldiers on >both sides of the conflict who were exposed to Agent Orange. > >Official figures say some 72 million litres of chemicals were >dispersed over Vietnamese soil between 1961 and 1975. More than 40 >million litres of these were deadly dioxins. > >As a result, more than 50,000 children have been born with >serious deformities. A two-year examination of 41,153 children >under the age of 15 at Ben Cau district alone found 242 cases of >birth deformities. > >The Vietnamese government, which has never officially asked for >war reparations, in late 1998 began to sound out Washington about >''cooperation to overcome the effects of the war''. > >Meanwhile, Vietnam's Red Cross has set up a fund for Agent >Orange victims and put up ''peace villages'' for them. Some Agent >Orange-affected children get treatment and rehabilitation there, >but those in isolated and rural areas, like Thang, have yet to >receive help. > >At Cam Lo district, in central Quang Tri province, war veteran >Tran Kien, whose two children live with the effects of Agent >Orange, is also tired of waiting. He does not want to hear of >delegations and the press any more. > >Quang Tri lies just 30 km north of the ''McNamara Line'' and 60 >km to the west of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the most heavily bombed >area in the war. > >The McNamara Line, named after the former U.S. defence >minister, refers to a border line that the American armed forces >set up at the 17th parallel separating North and South Vietnam. >The line was armed with electronic devices controlling the >infiltration of communist soldiers to the South. > >Today, more than 15,000 victims of Agent Orange live in this >province that separated north and south during the war. > >A survey concluded in July showed that 2,000 people from Quang >Tri have died from causes related to the chemical defoliant, and >5,240 children whose parents were exposed in some way to the >chemical have been born with deformities. > >''This makes us something of a showcase of the notorious 'chat >doc mau da cam' (toxic product with orange colour) victims,'' >veteran Kien says, sarcastically. > >Kien's family needs help for his children, but is too proud to >ask for public assistance. > >It was only when Dr. Nguyen Thien Nhan, an expert in >neurosurgery at the Hue Medical School, told him the purpose of >his visit -- to grant the family a small loan and to offer a >wheelchair to his daughter -- that Kien agreed to let the doctor >and his companions meet his children. > >Kien's daughter, Tran Minh Nguyet, sits immobile, her stunted >legs hidden by a long shirt. Her young brother is lost in his own >world, oblivious of what is going on around him. > >Dr. Nhan, who has performed surgery on many children affected >by Agent Orange, says he would try to do something for the boy. > >With funds from foreign donations, his Department of Genetics >and Handicapped Children at the Hue Medical School offers loans of >one million dong (around 70 dollars) to families of handicapped >children. > >The no-interest loans are returned after three months, and >handed to other needy families. > >Minh Nguyet's face turned radiant as she sat on the wheelchair >brought by Dr. Nhan, one that had been donated by the Dutch. > >''Now I can help my father,'' she says. Like other children >with disabilities, she wants desperately to be useful because she >sees her parents toil day after day to earn a living. > >''I wish my daughter could lead a normal life,'' muses Le Thi >Hoa, who also lives at Cam Lo. Her daughter Truong Thi Kieu Loan >looks like a child despite her 20 years. Her deformed limbs and >stunted growth set her apart from people her own age. > >Hoa suffered several miscarriages and then had breast cancer. >Her first child died after a series of epileptic seizures, and her >second had the effects of Agent Orange. > >Three decades after the war, her blood dioxin levels are still >10 times the average. ''I felt guilty before my daughter. If only >she could lead a normal life,'' Hoa says. > >At a ''peace village'' in Hue, there are now around 300 Agent >Orange-affected children from different parts of the country. > >Here, children accompanied by a family member go through a >three-month course that teaches them to adapt to the world >despite their difficulties. The family member will continue the >rehabilitation process when the child goes home. > >''I will write a letter to my father,'' 12-year-old Nguyen Thi >Be says. She has crippled hands, but social workers at the village >have taught her how to write with her foot. > >The effects of Agent Orange have been around for some time, but >only recently did the press and the government begin a real >campaign to support victims of the chemical. > >On Feb. 23, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai decided that victims >of Agent Orange and their children would receive monthly social >welfare payments equivalent to 3.40 to 6 U.S. dollars. > >In his visit to the capital Hanoi in August, the first by a >U.S. defence secretary since the war's end, Secretary William >Cohen offered help for Agent Orange victims. The U.S. >Environmental Protection Agency has affirmed that Agent Orange is >a known carcinogen.
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