Mgr Joseph Nguyen Van Yen led a delegation on 6 June that brought rice and donations to the people of the diocese of Vinh. Over two months, pollution has devastated fishermen’s livelihood, who now find themselves jobless and hungry. About five million people live in the affected area. On 12 June, residents in Vinh took to the streets to demand justice from the government.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Central Vietnam has been facing an environmental emergency for the past two and half months. Watching it unfold is “heart-breaking and sad,” said Mgr Joseph Nguyen Van Yen, who visited the area with Caritas.
For the bishop emeritus of Phat Diem, it was heart wrenching to “see personally fishermen dejected by polluted waters filled with dead fish, jobless and without the means to take care of their children”.
“I am praying that all those who live and work thanks to the sea, whether Catholics or not, can have a better future,” the prelate said.
The local fishing industry has received a knockout punch after hundreds of thousands of fish died as a result of the Formosa Plastics-owned Hung Nghiep steel plant discharging every day 12,000 cubic metres of wastewater through a sewage pipe into the sea.
About five million people live in Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Hue City and Quang Trị provinces. As the main source of income disappears, poverty awaits them.
For weeks, the Church and civil society groups have criticised the Vietnamese government for failing to protect public health, and prosecute those responsible, whilst cracking down harshly on protesters.
Quickly, Caritas Vietnam moved in to help local residents. On 6 June, a delegation led by Mgr Văn Yen, vice-president of the Charity Commission, travelled to the parishes of Thu Chi is Mỹ Hòa (Ha Tinh province, Vinh diocese) bringing rice and donations.
"We are looking forward to the authorities finding out what killed the fish and fix the environmental disaster, so that fishermen can get back to work,” said a parishioner in Mỹ Hòa.
For weeks, people have spontaneously protested against the government’s inaction. The authorities have responded with repressive steps against demonstrators.
In the Diocese of Vinh, about a thousand Catholics took to the streets demanding transparency and justice, after the government was accused of paying some fishermen to hush up the affair and associated health risks.
As if the pollution crisis was not enough, drought haunts the Mekong Delta, in southern Vietnam, which could provoke the worse famine since the 1940s.