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Speech of the United Nations Resident Coordinator at the groundbreaking ceremony of Phu Cat landfill

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Date:        16 December 2011
Event:      Groundbreaking ceremony of Phu Cat landfill
Speaker: United Nations Resident Coordinator, Ms. Pratibha Mehta

Your Excellency, Dr Le Ke Son, Deputy Director General of the Viet Nam Environment Administration and Head of Office 33, MONRE;
Mr. Le Huu Loc, Chairman, People’s Committee of Binh Dinh Province;
Colonel, Dr Pham Minh Duong, Deputy Director of the Department of Science, Technology and Environment, MOD;
Senior US officials;
Distinguished representatives from national agencies and the international community;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

I am very pleased to be able to address you at this important groundbreaking ceremony this morning.

As we all know, dioxin remains a tragic legacy of the War. It is associated with many environmental and health problems, including disabilities. And several heavily dioxin-contaminated hotspots remain, of which the worst are Bien Hoa, Da Nang and Phu Cat airports. At least 200,000 cubic meters of contaminated soil remain at these three hotspots. This is posing major health risks to local people and the environment. An estimated 5,400 cubic meters of contaminated soil will be contained in the landfill here, which is less than in the other main hotspots, but still very significant.

Over the last 40 years, Viet Nam has made many efforts to overcome this dioxin legacy, using its own resources. It has also been supported by international partners, including the US Government which is focusing on the Da Nang hotspot. This support is crucial. Yet the scale of the funding requirement and technical knowledge cannot be addressed solely by the Government or a single donor. And so it is vital that international assistance is stepped up even further and that it is well coordinated.

In 2006, UNDP joined the collective efforts and has since helped to eliminate the risks from contamination in the three major hotspots – Da Nang, Bien Hoa and Phu Cat. UNDP’s support and the financing provided by the Global Environment Facility is mandated under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which Viet Nam ratified in 2002. Indeed, I am very pleased that we have secured funding from the Global Environment Facility.

Of course I am especially pleased that we have today reached the crucial moment where real action can start. After many years of preparation we are now starting to eliminate the risks from the last remnants of the War. This will bring tangible benefits to the people living in the Phu Cat area.

It is important to point out that we have agreed a two-phased approach for the environmental clean-up of the dioxin hotspots. The first phase is containment, where risks to people, and also to wildlife, are fully eliminated. The landfill that will be constructed here must and will do that. While constructing the landfill we must also protect the health of the workers who will be building it, and rigorously implement the prescribed safety measures. These efforts will help to finally render this hotspot safe.

However, the Government and its international partners cannot yet afford the second phase, which is the actual destruction of the dioxin that will be put into the landfill here in Phu Cat. It is my strong hope that once the dioxin is fully contained, the necessary financing and technology will become available. This will enable us to completely destroy the dioxin, instead of having to monitor and maintain the landfill for decades or possibly centuries.

We will keep working with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Ministry of Defence, and especially with Office 33, to find the means to achieve this total dioxin destruction – also after we have completed the landfill.

We need to create safe environments and put the past behind us, even if that happens in stages. With continued Government leadership and increasing opportunities from international funding windows, the UN is confident that international assistance will be well coordinated and effectively implemented. By working together, we will be able to deal with the challenges of Agent Orange, eliminate the contamination risks and build safe environments for everyone. As the UN in Viet Nam, we will certainly do our utmost to make this important step a real success.

Let me end by wishing the authorities, Office 33, the project, Phu Cat airbase and local implementers great success in building, managing and implementing this important landfill project.

Thank you very much.