Vietnam’s mass fish kill isn’t simply an environmental disaster

Dead fish in Vietnam’s central coastal region


In the mass fish die-off on the country’s central coastal region, the Vietnamese government is faced with not only Vietnam’s worst ever environmental disaster but also widespread social unrest.

Millions of dead fish have washed up across some 200 km of the coast of Vietnam’s four central provinces since early last month.

According to a figure given by an official on May 5, the disaster had killed at least 100 tons of fish. This was based on the reports from the four affected provinces, namely Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue, and excluded dead fish that remained in the water.

Other farm-raised fish, shrimps and clams in this central coastal region, which is regarded as the country’s most vulnerable and poorest area and whose coastal population mainly lives by fishing and aquaculturing, have also died en mass. The life of these fishermen and aquafarmers was already difficult, and is now even tougher following the plague.

Faced with the seriousness of the matter, on April 28, the country’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Tran Hong Ha, called the mass fish kill a “very huge and serious environment disaster.”

Yet, though it is a very grave disaster with huge environmental, social, economic and political impacts, Vietnamese authorities were very sluggish to react to it. They only started to deal with the issue three weeks after the news about the mass fish deaths were widely reported and huge public outcries aired on social media.

Widespread social unrest

The severity of the catastrophe and especially the authorities’ slow and inefficient reaction to it have not merely made the Vietnamese public puzzled. They have, in fact, sparked a widespread and deep anger among the people.

Their resentment was compounded by other issues.

Another issue is that their government has failed to find out what or who caused this catastrophe. For many among them, including several experts, the authorities already knew the cause and the culprit of the disaster but did not want to let the Vietnamese people know.

All of these factors have incensed the public. In a country, where state media is closely controlled and public protest is strictly prohibited, people have used social media, notably Facebook, to express their rage and dismay over not only the government’s sluggish and inefficient response to the disaster but also its aloofness, incompetence and lack of transparency and accountability.

On May 1 and May 8, in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh city and in some other places, despite knowing they would be violently disrupted, thousands of people from different ages and professional backgrounds took to the streets to protest against Formosa and call for a clean environment and a transparent government.

Unlike previous protests, these rallies gathered more people. Some of the participants are reportedly former and current journalists of state-run newspapers, which are not allowed to report these protests. One of these is Phan Thị Châu, who formerly worked at Phu Nu Newspaper and whose husband is a former deputy editor of Tuoi Tre Newspaper.

A clean government

Moreover, the true root causes of the disaster are deep and numerous. While the fish die-off in these four coastal provinces is an unprecedented phenomenon in Vietnam, the mass fish kill has occurred in other places in the country. For instance, tons of farm-raised fish in Bach Lang River and Buoi River in the central province of Thanh Hoa have died in the last few days. The severe contamination of these rivers caused by factories’ unprocessed waste water is identified as the primary cause of this mass fish death.

Full article: Vietnam’s mass fish kill isn’t simply an environmental disaster (Asia Times)

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