After three months of investigation, the government blames steel maker for tonnes of dead fish and marine pollution. The company will pay US$ 500 million in compensation. For activists and dissidents, this is not enough given the damage to millions of people who need long-term help. The authorities too are responsible.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastic Group is responsible for an environmental disaster that caused 70 tonnes of fish to wash in central Vietnam, with dire consequences for the local population.
A three-month government probe confirmed what people knew all along, namely that one of the company’s steel plant was discharging every day some 12,000 cubic metres of wastewater through a sewage pipe into the sea.
Initially, the Formosa Plastic Group had denied responsibility for the fish kill, citing the US$ 45 million it spent upgrading waste-water treatment at the plant.
Vietnam’s head of the Government Office, Mai Tien Dung, told a news conference yesterday that Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp. will pay US$ 500 million to compensate the affected people, clean up the environment and help fishermen find new jobs.
About five million people live in Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Hue City and Quang Trị provinces. With the loss of the fishing industry, many find themselves impoverished, their main livelihood gone. Although there is no definitive data, many people have been poisoned by eating tainted fish as well.
For months, the Church and civil society groups have criticised the government for delaying the investigation, for failing to protect public health, and for violent repression of peaceful protests.
A visit by Caritas in the most affected areas shows how bad the situation is for fishermen and their families.
For some, Formosa’s admission is not enough though. Critics note that the government has not made public the contract that granted the company some 2,000 hectares of land and over 1,200 hectares of water surface. For the next 70 years, the company will pay 4 cents per square metre.
“All things considered, 0 million is not enough,” said Le Huy Ba, the former director of the Institute for Environment, Science, Technology and Management, at the Institute of Industry in Ho Chi Minh City.
“They have to compensate for millions of people who live along the coast, offering them help in life for a long time, not just two or three months,” he added.
Famous Catholic blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh remained critical of the government, saying the disaster was compounded by Hanoi’s complicity with the steel company.
“They repressed people and detained environmental protesters,” he said. “Everything just tells us the truth behind this, so even though the government announced the cause of the mass fish deaths and solutions, I think it is just an action amid the public pressure. I don’t have much hope in the announcement.”