Church backs the victims of the Formosa environmental disaster

Church leaders speak for and act on behalf of the people affected by the disaster a year ago. For Fr Antôn Đặng Hữu Nam, "Many of the victims have not been compensated for the physical and mental harm they endured." Mgr Hoàng Duc Oanh, the company continues “to dump toxic waste into the sea”. Mgr Phaolô Nguyễn Thái Hop noted that “we are responsible for our nation and future generations”.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Exactly a year tomorrow after an environmental disaster ravaged four Vietnamese central provinces), tens of thousands of victims are still waiting for reparations and compensation.

As the waiting gets longer, the sense of injustice and resentment has grown against the government, accused of corruption and failed policies.

Last year, a steel mill owned by the Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Corporation discharged 12,000 cubic metres of liquid toxic waste into the sea through drainage pipes in what is the worst incident of its kind in the country.

The waste killed 70 tonnes of fish, negatively impacting the population of Vietnam’s central provinces. About 250 km of coastline suffered serious environmental damage and more than 40 000 fishermen lost their livelihood.

In an agreement signed by the Formosa Plastics Corporation and the government without any public hearings, Hanoi accepted compensation to the tune of US$ 500 million on behalf of the victims. The money however has never been handed out.

The Catholic Church supports affected residents and has taken a stance against the authorities and their shortcomings.

"Five hundred million dollars in compensation from Formosa Plastics is very little compared to the scale of the disaster,” Fr Antôn Đặng Hữu Nam, from Quynh Phu parish in Yên Lưu (Nghe An province), told the media. “I know that the government has spent only 150 million for the victims."

"Many of the victims have not been compensated for the physical and mental harm they endured,” he added. “In addition, local authorities are unfair when it comes to compensation, which has been handed out arbitrarily.”

"The death of the waters, as well as the fish, is only the most immediate aspect of the problem,” said Archbishop Giuse Ngo Quang Kiệt. “The main impact of this devastation has been the death of society’s human soul,” which “must awaken human conscience. We need rationality, morality, and a proper political system, so that we can save this situation [. . .]. Everyone must be aware of problems so that we become aware of our right to life."

In Vinh, the diocesan commission supporting marine environmental pollution victims and some organisations have called on “the government of Taiwan to exercise its authority and push the Formosa Plastics Corp to take responsibility for its way of doing business in Vietnam".

Fr Phêrô Maria Hoàng Anh Ngoi, from Cồn Sẻ parish, slammed Formosa Plastics for the environmental contamination and the authorities for helping and shielding the dangerous company.

The clergyman also criticised the regime’s repression. Government officials, he said, "have not listened to the voice of truth. They are not part of the people."

"We sued Formosa Plastics Corporation not only for us but also for our grandchildren and future generations” said Mgr Hoàng Duc Oanh. “This is a win-win situation for the nation and the people.”

Nevertheless, “The government still allows the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation to exist. They covered up for and protected the dangerous company so that it can continue to dump toxic waste in the sea in ​​some areas in the central provinces, as was recently the case. They have no intention of cleaning up the waters. This is a problem that the public wants clarified."

Mgr Phaolô Nguyễn Thái Hop told clergy and laity in the diocese of Vinh that "As Catholics and citizens, we are responsible for our nation and future generations. We are determined to build a fairer and more humane society, protect the environment and express our solidarity to the victims of the environmental disaster."