U.S.-Vietnam Cooperation on Issues Related to Agent Orange
Deputy Assistant Secretary
Since I last testified before this committee on the topic of Agent Orange in May 2008, we have continued to make great strides in the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral relationship. We are moving forward on a wide range of issues, and we discuss matters frankly, even those issues on which we do not agree. As a result of our closer ties, we have made significant gains in areas ranging from accounting for the remains of Americans lost during the Vietnam conflict, to development of bilateral trade liberalization measures, to greater cooperation on religious freedom protections. Our success in recovering and accounting for the remains of Americans lost during the Vietnam conflict, with 642 now repatriated to date, deserves special mention as an example of joint collaborative efforts. Recently, we have expanded our cooperation into new areas, including education, climate change, investment protections, and military-to-military relations.
We are implementing a foreign assistance program in Vietnam that is growing in both size and scope aimed at supporting economic reform and good governance, building a vibrant civil society, and improving health and security for the Vietnamese people. Our assistance includes programs to address humanitarian needs, including HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, and support for those with disabilities, without regard to their cause. Since 1989, the United States has funded more than $44 million in programs in Vietnam to support people with disabilities; this includes significant contributions from the Leahy War Victims Fund.
U.S.-Vietnam Collaborative Efforts
Agent Orange has long been a sensitive issue for both countries, and we have differed over the lasting impact of the defoliant on Vietnam. I am pleased to say that we are now engaged in practical, constructive cooperation. Both the United States and Vietnam agree that the health of the Vietnamese people and the safety of its environment will be vital for Vietnam’s future. With the support of additional funds approved by Congress in FY 2007 and FY 2009, we are moving ahead with collaborative efforts to help Vietnam address environmental contamination and related health concerns.
Update on USG Activities
The $3 million included in the FY2007 supplemental appropriations bill for “environmental remediation and health activities” at “hot spots” in Vietnam is central to our efforts to address environmental and health concerns. Out of the initial $3 million, $1 million was expended for health projects. We also utilized a total of $550,000 for support costs, staffing to implement the Dioxin/Agent Orange program through FY 2010, and invitational travel to Vietnam for U.S. experts in dioxin remediation. The remaining $1.45 million has been budgeted for environmental containment and remediation activities. We have focused our efforts on the Danang “hotspot,” as the Government of Vietnam has requested assistance from the United States there.
In September 2008, USAID entered into three-year Cooperative Agreements with three U.S. Private Voluntary Organizations: Save the Children Foundation, East Meets West Foundation, and Vietnam Assistance for the Handicapped. Under these agreements, people with disabilities in the Danang area are provided with health and rehabilitation services and livelihood development support. We were pleased to have a Government of Vietnam representative on the panel that selected these projects.
Already, these organizations have provided valuable services to the disabled community in Danang. Vietnam Assistance for the Handicapped sponsored training for 22 medical professionals in Danang by U.S.-based physicians and provided rehabilitation services to 66 disabled people, including nine corrective surgeries. The East Meets West Foundation conducted a baseline needs assessment for the disabled population of the greater Danang area and provided medical screening for more than 3,000 people. Save the Children Foundation sponsored the first job fair in Danang to include people with disabilities. I am pleased to note that 20 of the 72 disabled participants received immediate offers of employment. In addition, our partners are working closely with local authorities to develop an integrated action plan to support people with disabilities in Danang.
We are also moving forward on environmental projects. Our Embassy in Hanoi is working closely with the Government of Vietnam to finalize an environmental remediation program for dioxin hotspots at the Danang Airport. With support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and building upon important Ford Foundation initiatives, USAID has worked in close coordination with the Government of Vietnam and other donors to design and implement a comprehensive remediation program.
As a first step, USAID has developed a project focusing on an environmental assessment and environmentally sound design and planning for containment of dioxin at the Danang airport. I am happy to report that the procurement process for these efforts is already underway.
Future USG Activities
We are pleased that an additional $3 million in FY2009 funding is available for Agent Orange/dioxin activities in Vietnam. We plan to use approximately $1 million of this funding for further support of environmental health activities and the remaining $2 million for environmental remediation efforts. We will also continue to consult with our Vietnamese partners to ensure the most productive use of U.S. support.
The governments of the United States and Vietnam have jointly cooperated on the issue of dioxin contamination since 2001. Our aim has been to strengthen the scientific capacity and infrastructure of Vietnam’s research institutions and improve the ability of Vietnamese authorities to protect the environment and promote public health for future generations.
Our collaboration with Vietnam on Agent Orange/dioxin issues extends well beyond the government-to-government dialogue. This week’s meeting of the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin and the Fourth Annual U.S.-Vietnam Joint Advisory Committee meeting, planned for September in Hanoi, are prime examples of the partnerships that are at the heart of our efforts. As we move forward, we will work hard to ensure U.S. government assistance complements an open and effective multi-actor approach to addressing outstanding concerns related to Agent Orange.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to appear before you today. I welcome your questions.