As Vietnam faces the risk of famine, Catholics help with the emergency
by Nguyen Hung

Rice output has been halved. In many provinces, sea pollution has made fishing impossible. Mgr Vũ Đình Hieu, chairman of the Caritas Commission for social and charitable activities, calls on Catholics to help those most affected. Caritas youth bring food and drinking water to the most polluted areas.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Various experts warn that Vietnam could face its worst famine since the 1940s, based on two major environmental crises that have recently hit the country: sea pollution and drought.

Caritas Commission for social and charitable activities chairman Mgr Vũ Đình Hieu has called on the country’s 26 dioceses, as well as on parishes and individual Catholics to mobilise in order to help those most affected.

Large-scale sea pollution has created an emergency in Vietnam’s central provinces. Hundreds of thousands of dead fish have shown up on beaches, crippling the local fishing industry.

No animal or plant species has been spared – whales, shrimps, crabs, shells, algae – since the Formosa Plastics-owned Hung Nghiep steel plant began discharging 12,000 cubic metres of wastewater through a sewage pipe into the sea.

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.

The second emergency is in southern Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. The El Niño weather phenomenon and Chinese-built upstream dams have provoked an intense drought. As water levels drop in the Mekong, sea waters have moved into the delta and flooded farmland. Increased ground salinity has made it unusable.

The Mekong Delta provides food to 56 per cent (45 million people) of the Vietnamese population. As a result of the drought, rice production has been halved.

For Vietnamese and foreign experts, “Vietnam faces not only a decline in fish stocks, but also in clean food (unpolluted by chemicals) and clean water. This could lead to famine like the one that killed two million people between October 1944 and June 1945.”

"We are facing a tragic situation,” said Mgr Vũ Đình Hieu on 25 May. “Over the past few days, we have received messages from the central provinces that bear witness to the catastrophe that is unfolding there.”

"In the spirit of the Jubilee of Mercy,” the prelate said, “all Vietnamese Catholics (about 7 million) are called to join in prayer and contribute to charitable works for our brothers and sisters who are in difficult circumstances."

Some Caritas youth groups have travelled to the polluted areas to help locals with donations, healthy food and drinking water.