Government authorises plant to dump effluent into Quyên River, which provides a livelihood to tens of thousands of people. For days, residents have demonstrated in a peaceful manner to stop the decision. Redemptorist Fr Đặng Hữu Nam has taken thousands of families, Catholic and non-Catholics, to sign a petition against the plant.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Thousands of residents in Kỳ Anh district (Hà Tĩnh province) have been peacefully demonstrating against the government and its decision not to close a steel plant owned by the Formosa Plastics Group.
The plant has polluted coastal waters of Vietnam’s central provinces over several months. A few days ago, it received authorisation to dump effluent into the Quyên River, causing panic among local residents.
In April 70 tonnes of fish died because of pollution caused by the Taiwanese-owned plant, which released its waste into the sea. More than 200,000 people in the provinces of Nghệ An, Hà Tĩnh, Quảng Bình and Huế have been affected.
The government has not compensated 40,000 fishermen affected nor the other thousands of people working in the fishing industry.
The Church and civil society groups have continued to criticise the government in Hanoi, which they blame for delaying the investigation, failing to protect the health of residents and cracking down with violence against peaceful protests.
The 20 km-long Quyên river runs through some villages in Kỳ Anh district. Tens of thousands of residents earn their living from the waterway, from fishing and farming, and wonder why the government has done what it has done.
By way of justification, the authorities said that the river water would be purified before it reaches the sea; however, health officials warn that this would not protect the health of those who live along the river.
On Monday, after the Sunday Mass, worshippers from Phú Yên parish marched to protest against this situation demanding an end to the pollution.
In Nghệ An province, Fr Đặng Hữu Nam, vicar of the parish of Phú Yên, led thousands of families, Catholic and non-Catholic, to the district courthouse. They signed a petition demanding transparency from the government.
"Vietnamese law does not allow mass petitions,” said the Redemptorist priest. “Everyone has to present their signature at the local government office."
Fr Đặng Hữu Nam spent the last few days helping every family to fill out the papers. For now, 506 have signed.
Mgr Joseph Ngô Quang Kiêt, archbishop emeritus of Hanoi, travelled to the province to show his support for the protesters.
"Upholding justice,” he said, “is everyone’s duty. It is also our duty to ensure the survival of the Vietnamese people."