During the Vietnam War, more than 72 million litres of Agent Orange were discharged as a chemical weapon in the fields and forests throughout Vietnam and rural areas of Laos and Cambodia. Agent Orange is a toxic herbicide containing non-biodegradable dioxins. Local inhabitants have been exposed to Agent Orange for many years resulting in many health problems, particularly in certain zones with high concentration. In a joint effort between Green Cross Switzerland, the Laotian government and Hatfield Consultants, a pilot project is launched to identify the ”hot spot” or most heavily contaminated areas throughout Laos in order to reduce exposure to and alleviate the impact of Agent Orange.
This project was preceded by influential study undertaken by Hatfield Consultants and the Environmental Research Institute in Laos, which indicated high concentrations of dioxin contamination as a result of Agent Orange in hot spot zones. These sites were found to be former military bases in which Agent Orange was stored and transported by plane. Landmines often surround these same sites, which requires additional resources and expertise for removing mines as integral to the program.
The project is designed to prevent contamination of Agent Orange in hot spot areas by reducing exposure whilst improving the living conditions of those affected by respiratory diseases, impaired nervous systems, physical disabilities, and other debilitating long-term effects of Agent Orange. Risk of exposure will be lowered through educational, social and medical activities. According to Christina Bigler, Chair of the SocMed Programme, the most successful method or preventing contamination today in hot spot zones is to build awareness and educate vulnerable populations to the risks of exposure and provide the tools to live accordingly.