Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rana Plaza building collapse: International aid not sought

One of the key issues following the Rana Plaza building collapse tragedy was the decision by the Bangladesh government not to ask for international assistance. The story was broken in the Daily Telegraph and New Age, and the articles are below

New Age: Govt rejects int’l search, rescue assistance (29 April 2013)
The government has rejected offers of international search and rescue assistance, including a formal offer of sending a team of specialists from Britain.
The offers were made within 36 hours after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building at Savar which has so far led to the death of 378 people, mostly apparel workers employed by the five clothing factories operating in the building.
The offers followed an informal assessment that even though as part of its donor-funded project, the UN had provided equipment and training for the Bangladesh fire brigade and army on dealing with collapsed buildings, an effective rescue of the magnitude of Rana Plaza would require outside assistance.
One Western diplomat in Dhaka told New Age that at the time, ‘The UN had emphasised the urgent need for technical search and rescue support’ and ‘that the window in which this type of intervention will be effective [would be] closing fast.’
A senior United Nations official confirmed to New Age that shortly after the building had collapsed, the UN’s humanitarian adviser met up with government officials and discussed whether the government would require that a team of experts be brought to Dhaka through the UN’s International Search and Rescue Advisory Group.
Known as INSARAG, this is a network of disaster-prone and disaster-responding countries and organisations dedicated to urban search and rescue and operational field coordination.
Its web site says, ‘The INSARAG community acknowledges the importance of providing rapid, professional urban search and rescue support during disasters that result in structural collapse.’
The UN official, however, said that an offer which would have brought into Bangladesh specialist rescuers and equipment, and possibly sniffer dogs, was rejected by the government.
Diplomats told New Age that despite the rebuke, the international community still wanted to offer support and many embassies including that of the United States informed the government that they were willing to provide expertise or other kinds of assistance.
Subsequently, the UK government on Thursday, the day after the collapse, made a specific formal offer to the home and foreign ministries to provide ‘technical advisory support aimed at addressing the apparent gap in technical coordination capacity.’
The exact nature of the support that was offered was not known but one Western diplomat said that ‘due to the given historical reluctance [of the Bangladesh government] against accepting international assistance, the offer was sufficiently low key to be accepted by the government.’
However, even though the offer was ‘calibrated’ to be as acceptable as possible to the government ministers, it was rejected as senior civil servants said, that ‘rescue operations would be shortly called off.’
Rescue operations have, in fact, continued for a further 72 hours.
A spokesperson for Britain’s Department for International Development confirmed that it had offered assistance which Bangladesh had rejected: “The UK offered specialist technical advice to the government of Bangladesh to support the search and rescue operation at the collapsed building in Savar. The Bangladesh government has confirmed their decision to decline this offer.”
CQK Mustaq Ahmed, a senior secretary in Bangladesh’s ministry of home affairs, Sunday night said that he had heard that his minister had rejected an offer but did not know about it directly.
‘Maybe the offer has been decided by the minister [that we do] not need that. I don’t know, but I hear that he said there is no need. If there were immediate machines of course it might have helped, I don’t know if they could line it up in two or three days,’ he said. It was ‘not useful’ to speculate on whether more had died because of the decision, he added.
Babul Miah, deputy secretary at the foreign ministry, said that he was not aware of an offer or rejection and did not believe that such an offer would have been dismissed. ‘I don’t believe that if the international organisations offered technical support that the government would reject it. It shouldn’t happen,’ he said.
New Age: UN offered expert rescue team within hours after building collapse (30 April 2013)
Three hours after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, a senior official of the United Nations spoke to the director general of the national fire service reminding him that the government could ask for specialist search and rescue teams to come to Dhaka.
‘Three to four hours after the disaster I phoned the director general of the Fire Brigade, and reminded him that the government was a member of the network of countries in the UN’s International Search and Rescue Advisory Group and it could ask a specialist team to come to Dhaka.’ said Gerson Brandao, the Humanitarian Affairs Adviser.
On Sunday, New Age reported that the government had rejected offers of international search and rescue assistance, including a formal offer of sending a team of specialists from Britain.
The UN Humanitarian Adviser said that it was not appropriate for him to suggest more strongly to the fire service director general that the government seek outside assistance, as he was ‘confident that the people on [the collapse] site would be in a better position to suggest what assistance was required.’
‘The director general said that he would consult his seniors, that [the government] promised to look into it, and that he would get back to me about whether they needed additional assistance,’ Gerson added.
INSARAG is a network of disaster-prone and disaster-responding countries and organisations dedicated to urban search and rescue and operational field coordination. Bangladesh is a member.
‘These are a group of people who are experts, they have dogs, micro-cameras and other equipment that we do not have in Bangladesh. They would normally bring a scanner that can detect body heat under rubble,’ Gershon said.
He explained that he had discussed the issue with the fire service director general as he was the focal point of the UN INSRAC in Bangladesh.
The UN official said that since there was no feedback from the government he followed up his initial call with another one on the following afternoon. ‘I understood [from that discussion] that it was still being discussed,’ he said.
When asked whether or not the matter should have been pushed more firmly by the UN, Gershon said, ‘We have absolutely put enough effort in trying to persuade the government to use international assistance. We reminded them what could be provided by INSARAG. It is the government’s decision to ask.’
Ahmed Ali, the head of the national fire service acknowledged that he had received the call from the UN Humanitarian Affairs Adviser.
‘The ministry of disaster management said that if some country can give us equipment without manpower, we could just take the equipment,’ he said.
‘But I told them that this would waste time because if we got equipment without manpower, we would need to be trained to use the equipment. This was the kind of discussion that was happening. And then it became a little late to bring them. The ministry acted late.’
Daily Telegraph: UK Rescue Aid rejected after Dhaka building collapse (28 April 2013)
Bangladesh rejected offers of search and rescue teams from Britain and other countries to free people trapped during last week's catastrophic factory collapse in Dhaka, The Daily Telegraph has learned.
More than 370 people died when the eight-story Rana Plaza building crumbled into a vast pile of rubble on Wednesday. Teams of ill-equipped local rescuers have been sifting through mountains of wreckage for survivors.
Foreign offers to provide experienced disaster rescue teams, which could potentially have saved more lives, were turned down last week, diplomatic sources said.
Documents seen by The Daily Telegraph indicate both Bangladesh's foreign and home ministries rejected the offers because they feared that accepting aid would damage national pride. The documents disclose a diplomatic campaign to persuade Bangladeshi officials to accept the assistance, and "face-saving" suggestions on keeping it low-key to avoid offending Bangladeshi sensitivities.
When United Nations officials became aware of the large numbers of people trapped under the rubble, consultations were held with Western diplomats to assess whether Bangladesh had the wherewithal to mount an effective rescue operation. They decided it did not, and approached several governments, including Britain's, to identify which could send teams of rescuers and heavy lifting equipment.
"The UN has underlined that the needed search and rescue support, including the UK contribution, is available from the international community, but this has been rejected," one official said.
Instead, the rescue operation relied on local volunteers without protective clothing, many of whom wore plastic sandals. On Saturday,The Daily Telegraph disclosed how doctors delegated a volunteer garment factory worker to amputate the hand of one survivor to allow her to be rescued. Some buried workers have survived in day-time temperatures of 95F (35C) by drinking their own urine.
The government has also been criticised by the relatives of those trapped in the debris for apparently trying to end the rescue mission prematurely. Officials were due to deploy heavy machinery to clear the rubble away last week, having decided survivors would not last more than 72 hours. But after a public backlash they delayed the plan, as more people were pulled out alive and yet more cries from survivors could be heard.
A spokesman for Britain's Department for International Development confirmed it had offered "specialist technical advice" which Bangladesh had rejected.
C.Q.K Mustaq Ahmed, a senior secretary in Bangladesh's Ministry of Home Affairs, said that he had heard that his minister had rejected an offer, but did not know about it directly. "I hear that he said there is no need," Mr Ahmed said.
The owner of the building, Mohammed Sohel Rana, a youth leader of Bangladesh's ruling Awami League, was arrested in Benapole, near the border with India on Sunday. He is accused of encouraging workers to return inside the Rana Plaza despite warnings from engineers it could collapse.

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