Sad Legacy

SBS reports that “Nearly 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, its youngest victims are still in their infancy. Across the country, some babies are still being born with defects as a result of their parents’ exposure to dioxin found in in the crop-killing herbicide Agent Orange.” The US military sprayed about 44 million litres, or 12 million gallons of the substance over the country between 1961 and 1971.

The article tells the story of three year old Dang Hong Dan, who was born with a cleft lip and deformities in one hand and foot. Dan’s parents take work where they can get it, but their income is not consistent, and they have trouble caring for their young son.

There are about 1.2 million children in Vietnam who are living with disabilities. Of those, 150,000 are believed to be victims of Agent Orange. What a sad legacy of a sad war – one that should not have involved either the USA or Australia. Chemical warfare has no place in a civilised world.

“Last year,” SBS says, “the US government agreed to assist in clean-up efforts of Agent Orange, after a long period of bilateral discussions with the Vietnamese authorities. Australia is not involved in the clean-up effort, but through AusAID is funding programs to help those affected by the substance as well as other children with disabilities.” Dan’s family is one of those receiving help.

AusAID director Peter Baxter says the decision to provide aid is not related to our involvement in the war, but it is “not only the right thing to do, it’s a smart thing to do to ensure that the human resources that are available in developing countries are actually used to benefit those societies.”

While Australia did not use chemical weapons in Vietnam it is gratifying to see that we are helping in a small way to help the people there cope with the aftermath of the war.