05/03/2016, 09.13
VIETNAM
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Chemicals in the sea: thousands of people without food

by Paul N. Hung

Tens of thousands of dead fish litter central coast of the country. The government has not yet given an answer to causes, but independent experts blame local steel company. An underwater pipe uncovered, it had polluted the coast for years. Archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City: "Let us pray for our brothers and sisters affected by the tragedy."

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - thousands of people have been demonstrating peacefully for days against the government's inefficiency in dealing with the fish deaths that have brought the central provinces of Vietnam to its knees and its inhabitants, who live mostly of marine resources, to the brink of starvation.

In the capital Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and in major cities across the country parades and demonstrations are taking place under the slogans "save our seas, save our children", "we are the next to die for the sea", " government corruption ​​is polluting the sea".

As of April 6 last hundreds of thousands of dead fish have been washed up on the country’s coasts: the cause of the massive fish death is still unknown. The most serious charges, however, have repercussions on a Taiwanese steel company, which is accused of having illegally polluted the inshore marine waters.

The worst damage is concentrated in the provinces of Hà Tĩnh, Quảng Bình, Quảng Trị and Thừa Thiên-Huế.. For weeks the government has been discussing the possible reasons for the ecological disaster without giving a clear answer. Many independent experts in the field attribute responsibility to Hưng Nghiep company, based in Ha Tinh province. The steel group is directed by Taiwanese and Chinese businessmen under the flag of the former Formosa.

According to the local newspaper TuoiTre News, a fisherman of the province Hà Tĩnh discovered a long underground pipe belonging to the company that pipes pollution into the water 17 meters below sea level. The Hưng Nghiep admitted that 12 thousand cubic meters of toxic liquid is dumped every day. Recently, also, the industry has used 300 tons of chemical material to "cool" the ducts of its aquifer system.

Founded in 2012, Hưng Nghiep received 2 thousand hectares of coastline and 1200 hectares of marine space to build their own facilities from the Vietnamese Government. For the next 70 years, the company will pay just 4 cents per square meter for rent. Executives have brought in tens of thousands of Chinese workers as cheap labor.

3 thousand families had to evacuate their homes because of air pollution along the coast and damages have  involved at least 20 thousand people. For fear of poisoning thousands of fishermen remain ashore and their families are on the brink of starvation. Unofficial estimates say the fishing industry has already lost 5 billion dong (about 200 thousand euro).

On April 30, Msgr. Bùi Văn Đọc, archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City and president of the Vietnamese bishops' conference, issued a statement on the ecological disaster: "This situation could be called an 'environmental catastrophe', such as those  the Pope speaks of in his encyclical “Laudato si”.

The prelate called on all citizens to join in prayer for our "brothers and sisters of the central provinces, who face an extreme situation, and participate in Caritas activities to help those affected." Msgr. Bùi Văn Đọc asked all demonstrators not to use "excessive actions".

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