Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Vietnam - Millions of dead fish wash up on Vietnam's coast in huge environmental disaster

Millions of fish have washed up dead along a 125-kilometre stretch of the Vietnamese coast in one of the communist country's worst environmental disasters.

Soldiers have been deployed to bury tonnes of fish, clams and the occasional whale that began dying in early April along the north-central coast, including some popular tourist beaches.

Vietnamese officials facing growing anger over the disaster have not announced the official cause of the deaths, which have affected the livelihoods of tens of thousands of families.

Some officials have suggested it may be toxins or algal blooms known as red tide.

But Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered an investigation into how a Taiwanese-owned steel plant received approval to pipe waste directly into the sea.

Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, a unit of Tawain's Formosa Plastics, is looking to raise its investment in the area from $US10.5 billion ($14.2 billion) to $US28.5 billion.

The company's executive vice-president, Chang Fu-ning, said the steel plant's treatment system had received all appropriate approvals.

"It's beyond doubt," he said.

Mr Phuc said his government is determined to track down the main culprits with "objectivity, honesty, prudence and urgency."

"No one is allowed to cover up any infringements. The government is determined to protect the people's rightful interests," he said.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of several cities on May 1 to demand the government takes swift action to end the pollution in Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hua provinces.

At least a dozen protesters were beaten and temporarily detained by police, human rights groups said.

Protests without a permit are banned in the country and those participating are usually jailed.

Social media has also been swamped with demands for action, including the posting of a petition calling for US president Obama to raise the issue during a scheduled visit to Vietnam this month.

Environmental groups have expressed concern about reports that locals have collected and refrigerated contaminated fish for later sale.

"My concern is that fish from contaminated areas will be used as raw materials," Tran Thi Dan, the owner of a small fish sauce business," told reporters.

"It will cause a huge impact on my business because people are afraid of poisoning."

The United Nations has called on Vietnam to ensure the Vietnamese people continue to have the right to health and food.

Laurent Meillan, the regional representative for the UN Human Rights Office for south-east Asia, said Vietnam should act to protect people against environmental harm and "ensure that all persons negatively affected, particularly fishermen, have access to effective remedies."

In a statement the UN office said it was also concerned about the treatment of those joining protests which erupted over the diaster, and called on authorities to guarantee freedom of assembly in line with international law.



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