Published in The Daily Star on Monday, 27 January 2014.
Nine Months into Rana Plaza Tragedy
Where do we stand?
Khondaker Golam Moazzem and Adiba Afros
IT has been nine months since the Rana Plaza collapsed. After the collapse, there was support from the government, public and private organisations and the general public towards the rescue operations. However, most of these efforts have only ensured temporary sustenance to the survivors. The survivors and the family members of the victims are living in the uncertainty of ensuring a stable livelihood due to the lack of long term support available.
Exact Number of Victims: The exact numbers of the deceased, injured and missing still remain uncertain. The number of those affected ranges from 3572 to 3838; that of the deceased buried without identification varies from 291 to 306; and between 98 and 379 for missing workers. Resolving such discrepancies is necessary for ensuring that the directly affected workers and their family members are recognised. Initially, 332 were reported missing, after which local authorities declared that 267 were ‘missing.’ The results of the first DNA test subsequently ensured the identification of 157 workers, who had been buried without identification. Despite these efforts, 110 dead bodies lie in the Jurain graveyard without any identities and 21 amongst those reported missing remain untraced.
Progress in fulfilling financial commitments – There was a considerable support available at the time of the incident, however, very few victims have been ensured for the long run. Government institutions provided Tk. 20,000 to 843 families for funeral expenses, Tk. 5,000 to over a thousand families, and another 777 (workers and families) received Tk. 1 lakh each. BGMEA expended Tk. 7.06 crore for April 2013 salary and allowance payments to 2,785 workers of the five factories in Rana Plaza. Primark, one of the retailers working with New Wave Bottoms, took the initiative to provide 6 months’ salary payments to 3,621 workers, including the 550 who worked at their supplier factory. A number of workers and families of the deceased workers did not get that support for various reasons. These payments are, however, not sufficient to meet the long term needs that have been surfacing after nine months following the incident.
PM’s Relief and Welfare fund has disbursed savings certificate worth Tk. 10-15 lakh to 40 workers, which is a minute percentage of those in need of such support, and the availability of funds is most certainly not the issue considering the generous amounts that have been donated towards this. A committee appointed by the High Court is currently in process of determining a compensation package for the Rana Plaza victims. This ‘high-powered’ committee is yet to finalise a concrete support scheme as differences amongst the various stakeholders regarding the estimate is yet to be resolved. A similar international initiative is also in progress and has gathered the support of four retailers—Primark, El Corte Inglés, Bonmarché and Loblaw—to contribute towards an estimated compensation fund worth $40 million.
Progress in the commitment on treatment of the injured: A few injured workers are still receiving ongoing support at CRP, CDD and the BILS Support Center in Savar. Many of the injured require long term rehabilitation support. 36 artificial limbs have been provided through NITOR, BRAC, CRP and CDD to the 39 who lost their limbs. While these beneficiaries can manage their daily chores, it is still difficult for them to be reemployed at regular jobs; in some cases it was noted that the quality of the limbs and the supporting training on its use were inadequate. These limbs also need to be replaced every 2-3 years, which is yet to be considered by the supporting organisations. Some of the critically injured are yet to recover even after 9 months of ongoing treatment.
Progress in the Commitment on Rehabilitation and Re-employment: Reemployment has been a challenge for the survivors, particular in garments factories. Many are unwilling to go back into garment factories as they are still traumatised by the incident. Initiatives to ensure the reemployment of workers includes the Rana Plaza Coordination Cell training 32 victims for jobs in the leather sector, ILO and Brac training another 50 in apprenticeship skills for small businesses, BGMEA re-employing 70 at member factories, BILS training 10 workers as physiotherapy assistants and GIZ committing to support the training and reemployment of 300 female survivors.
Progress in the Commitment on Supporting Orphans: There are an approximate 700 orphans as a result of the tragedy. The futures of these children remain at stake if they are not provided the necessary support and care. According to BGMEA sources, while different factory owners have agreed to support a total of 285 children, only 21 children have been taken in orphanages for long term support whereas the rest are allegedly unwilling to live in orphanages. Sreepur Village is supporting the educational needs of 138 children; Ahsania Mission, Action Aid, VERC, Save the Children, Unicef and a few other organisations are also providing support to the affected children. However, there are still many children who are not receiving any form of support whatsoever.
Status of the Rescue Workers: Many untrained and inexperienced civilians had worked day and night in support of the rescue mission. While their efforts have been nationally commended as heroic, some still remain traumatised from the experience and are unable to reintegrate themselves back into regular life; these rescue workers are also not properly accounted for in these support schemes and only a few organisations such as Naripokkho are providing counseling services as necessitated. It is equally important to ensure financial and long term treatment support to these victims.
Status of Legal Commitments: Investigation reports submitted by different committees following the incident accused 22 people for the Rana Plaza collapse, following which 4 cases have been filed against the accused and they were arrested.
The overwhelming amount of support that was promised within the first 100 days, has eventually dissipated. Sporadic and uncoordinated efforts have been unable to address the more critical long term concerns of those affected by the Rana Plaza collapse. Our demand towards the concerned authorities is that they fulfill their commitments to those who have already suffered an immeasurable loss from such a tragedy and do so without further delay.
The writers are Additional Research Director, CPD and Research Intern, CPD, respectively.