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Vietnam still poisoned by US chemical weapons

The side-effects of the Vietnam War are destroying thousands of lives, with many Vietnamese saying no amount of US compensation can give them back their health.

­Vietnam may be one of only five socialist states in the world, but its economic progress is notable.

Business is booming, high rise offices sprout up everywhere, and the people have opportunities to improve their lives.

However thousands of Vietnamese struggle, and not for financial reasons.

The saying 'all is fair in love and war' has been used to justify many military decisions. But when, during the Vietnam War, the United States began deploying a new chemical weapon they named Agent Orange, not many could have predicted that those who will suffer from it most will not be soldiers on the battlefields, but their children, most of whom were not even born at the time.

Vu Thi Huong is 34 years old, but you would never guess her age by looking at her. Born blind and with many severe physical difficulties, she is fed and bathed by her parents to this day.

However, her life was taken away from her before she was even born.

“My daughter was born blind, and we didn't know why until we took her to the hospital in 1981 and the doctors did some blood tests. That's when they said she was affected by Agent Orange. It's very difficult, taking care of her – because she is completely helpless, completely dependent on us,” says Vu Thang Kim, Thi Huong’s father and a war veteran.

For a decade, American jets dispersed 80 million litres of the new herbicide over the territory of Vietnam.

Operation Ranch Hand did not win the war, but did achieve its goal of destroying tens of millions of hectares of agricultural fields, and also exposed nearly 5 million people to its deadly poison.

Half a million children in Vietnam were born with severe physical and mental disabilities – all because of Agent Orange.

Neither the US government nor the chemical companies that made the herbicide have paid a single cent in compensation to those whose lives were destroyed by their work.

Their only relief has come from the Vietnamese Government and various international organizations like the Red Cross, who set up the so-called Peace Villages.

In these settlements, affected children get their chance to live a life with as much normality as their conditions allow.

They study in a school on site, play with friends living in the nearby village and get medical and physical treatment from doctors.

But not many of them will ever grow to be fully independent and self-sufficient adults.

“Even if the United States paid some compensation for what they did…no money can give my daughter her life back. Nothing can pay for this pain,” Vu Thang Kim says.