For Justice and Peace Commission, Hanoi hindered fish death investigation, beat protesters
by J.B. Nam Nguyen

Commission president Mgr Paul Nguyen Thai Hop issued a pastoral letter slamming "the government’s iron fist against protesters who demand the restoration of a clean environment”. Thousands of dead fish began showing up a month and half ago due to pollution by the Hung Nghiep steel, threatening human health. "As Pope Francis wrote in Laudato si, we cannot tolerate crimes against nature, which are sins against God."

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – For Mgr Paul Nguyen Thai Hop, bishop of Vinh and president of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, "We cannot remain indifferent to the disastrous pollution of the environment that is wreaking havoc in the central coastline, and causing long-term risks for the whole nation. The ocean, if I may say so, is screaming in desperation that its being poisoned to death.”

In a pastoral letter released last Friday, the prelate slammed the government’s violent crackdown on protesters and its attempt to hinder the investigation. In it, the bishop describes the "panic, impoverishment and indignation people have had to go through” as a result of the environmental emergency that has killed hundreds of thousands of fish over the past month and half, and threatened the livelihoods of fishermen in the central provinces of Vietnam. "As Pope Francis wrote in Laudato si, we cannot tolerate crimes against nature, which are sins against God."

Since 6 April, thousands of dead fish have started to show up in the coastline of the central provinces of Tĩnh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue. In early May, reports indicated that the fish had died as a result of pollution caused by a 17-metre sewage pipe that discharges wastewater directly into the sea near a plant operated by the Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp (owned by Formosa Plastics).

The company admitted to dumpling 12,000 cubic metres of wastewater every day. The last time it did so (perhaps last month), they used 300 tonnes of extremely toxic chemicals to clean the sewer.

Mgr Paul Nguyen Thai Hop slammed the government for hindering the investigation. "For over a month the authorities have failed to disclose the cause and the culprits of this catastrophe,” he said. What is more, not only have they “encouraged people to consume seafood from the affected areas without proper health controls,” but it is even harder to understand why the government has used an “iron fist against protesters who demand the restoration of a clean environment.”

According to the president of Justice and Peace, the environmental damage caused by Hung Nghiep is very serious. "The toxic elements will remain in the seabed for a long time. Sea currents will dilute the concentration so as not to cause immediate death to the creatures of the sea, but these will still suffer from long-term hazards from infected food. When humans consume poisoned sea products, harmful substances will infiltrate and accumulate in their bodies, causing cancer, deformities, and birth defects."

To deal with the emergency, the bishop of Vinh appeals to our "Catholic brothers and sisters to show your Christian nature [. . .] by abandoning the consumer lifestyle that disregards environmental issues; [. . .], and by helping disaster victims by visiting them and giving them material and spiritual support”.

At the same time, this calls for “safe disposal of the dead sea animals to prevent toxic emissions,” a ban on “the sale of contaminated food, as well as cooperating with individuals and organisations of goodwill to find measures to tackle the emergency."

Finally, Mgr Paul Nguyen Thai Hop has called for the Constitution of Vietnam to include the right of citizens to demand transparency in the country’s governance and disaster management. He also called for those responsible of this disaster to be brought to justice.