In March 1975, the United States fled from a protracted war in Vietnam that claimed more than 58,000 Americans, and close to 2 million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. The US also left behind a behind a devastated landscape, riddled with millions of hard-to-locate landmines and unexploded ordnances; and a once fertile land now defoliated by millions of gallons of Agent Orange, a deadly herbicide that causes cancer, neurological damage and birth defects.
More than 42 years later, that legacy remains. It is estimated that more than 3 million landmines/UXO/cluster munitions remain buried in Vietnam. Since 1975, over 40,000 Vietnamese have died from these deadly remnants of war, and over 60,000 innocent victims have been injured. In the hospitals of Quang Tri province, part of the infamous DMZ, 80% of the land is still riddled with landmines and innocent children are dying each month.
Millions of Vietnamese still suffer the impacts of Agent Orange, too. Young-to-middle age adults live with severe cognitive impairment and blindness. Agent Orange has also entered the food system, condemning the most fertile parts of Vietnam to decades of land contamination.
Recently, Prince Harry committed to removing all land mines around the world by 2025 to honor of the legacy of his mother, Princess Diana of Wales, and the 20-year anniversary of her death. It was Diana who first catapulted the issue of landmines to the forefront of the international agenda when she famously walked near an active landmine field in Angola.
Prince Harry’s commitment has provided a huge boost to the efforts of Roots of Peace, HALO, MAG and other land mine removal organizations. It has also inspired a partnership between land mine organizations and Earth Day Network.
We are now engaged in a joint campaign to remove all landmines, eradicate Agent Orange and reforest Vietnam by the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020. Replacing the legacy of the Vietnam War while fulfilling the promises of Princess Diana is not only important, it has the potential for true global inspiration and transformation.