Although joint efforts between the Vietnamese and US governments have been fruitful, recovery of the environment and improvement of the health of AO victims still remains limited.

Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Nguyen Xuan Cuong made these remark at the opening of the fourth annual meeting of the US-Vietnam Joint Advisory Committee (JAC) on Agent Orange and its contaminant, dioxin, in Hanoi on Sept. 8.

“It is time for the two governments to make official agreements on an effective, long-term programme for this issue,” said the deputy minister.

Deputy Minister Cuong emphasised that Vietnam gives high priority to the reclamation of severely dioxin-affected areas to prevent further exposure and also the provision of health care and assistance to AO victims, among numerous tasks to overcome the consequences of the toxic substance.

Cuong asked the Consultation Council to focus their discussions on concrete proposals to implement the two priorities.

He expressed his hope that the Vietnam-US health working group established at this meeting will put forward solutions and a roadmap to provide health care for children with disabilities and limit the number of newborns with birth defects due to the impact of AO.

Deputy Minister Cuong took the occasion to highlight the technical solutions put forward by the Vietnam-US environmental working group to deal with seriously contaminated spots at Da Nang Airport .

However, he said that the funds that the US Government promised for environmental remediation at the airport have not been forthcoming, so the results of the consultation between the environment group and the JAC have failed to materialise.

He also underscored the efforts of the Ford Foundation, the US War Veterans Association in Vietnam , the United Nations Development Programme and non-governmental organisations in helping overcome the consequences of AO/dioxin.

For his part, US Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Michalak said that “Agent Orange is a sensitive issue for many groups in the US and Vietnam . Progress is complicated by misunderstanding and misinformation. We can counter this through open, frank dialogue such as has occurred in the three previous JAC meetings.”

He said USAID has entered into a three-year cooperative agreement with Save the Children, the East Meets West Foundation, and Vietnam Assistance for the Handicapped to provide health and rehabilitation services and livelihood development support to people with disabilities in Da Nang area.

Regarding environmental remediation, Ambassador Michalak said that they have received bids and would soon announce the contract for an environmental assessment and for remediation preparation work at the Da Nang Airport .

Last June, the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology (VAST) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) initiated a pilot test of bioremediation technology at Da Nang Airport . If successful, the technology will provide an innovative and cost-effective dioxin remediation solution, he added.

The three-day meeting will hear reports from the Vietnam-US health and environmental groups and discuss solutions to address the impact of AO/dioxin on Vietnam ’s environment and human health./.