DHAKA: Bangladesh on Tuesday defended its decision to snub foreign aid after the collapse of a factory complex as anger flared at the recovery operation and towards the building’s owner when he appeared in court.
With the death toll from the country’s worst ever industrial disaster now standing at 387, Western retailers offered compensation to the victims of last Wednesday’s tragedy on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka.
The government announced plans for another blitz of inspections after it came under pressure from Western brand names for a “credible” safety regime in an industry that has a shocking record of disasters.
While foreign help such as sniffer dogs and heat-seeking sensors has been a regular feature of rescue efforts following other large-scale disasters, the government decided it could handle the situation.
“The need for immediate foreign assistance was not felt because our rescue operation has been sufficient and exemplary,” Home Secretary Mustak Ahmed said, adding the government was “grateful” for the offers.
Ahmed confirmed Britain was among the foreign governments to offer help.
The UN’s humanitarian advisor in Bangladesh Gerson Brandao said that he had offered the help of specialist rescue teams based in Singapore and Abu Dhabi within hours of the disaster but never received a response.
“These are a group of people who are experts. They have dogs, micro cameras and other equipment that we do not have in Bangladesh,” Brandao said.
Although the exact number of people still missing is not known, there were around 3,000 workers on shift at the time of the disaster and more than 2,400 were rescued from the ruins.
“Our army, firefighters, police and volunteers did a very good job. We also have enough equipment,” Ahmed added.
There are accusations however that the government’s reluctance to accept outside help had a more sinister motive.
Rights activist Hana Shams Ahmed wrote on Facebook that the government was afraid of having international aid workers on the ground as “they don’t want this to be internationally discussed how easily preventable this was”.
“Ultimately, the responsibility of this lies with the government and its chain of corruption, negligence and greed,” added Ahmed.
Distraught relatives who have stayed at the site for news were also critical of the recovery operation, fearing bodies could be pulverised.
Rescuers have begun using heavy lifting equipment, including cranes, after determining there was little chance of finding anyone else alive.
“Our target is to complete the rescue work as fast as possible,” army spokesman Shahinul Islam said.
But Yunus Khan, among a group of around 100 people still awaiting news at the site, told reporters that he feared “the use of this heavy equipment will dash any chances of recovering the bodies”.
Relatives have also turned their anger on the owner of the eight-storey building, Sohel Rana, who made his first appearance in court late Monday after being detained at the border with India.
There were chants of “Hang the Killer!” as he was brought before the court in Dhaka on charges of causing death through negligence. He was remanded in custody for a further 15 days.
Britain’s Primark, which was among the retailers whose products were being made at the compound, announced that it would compensate victims by working with a local non-governmental organization to assess their needs.
Canadian supermarket giant Loblaw made a similar announcement, saying it would “deliver support in the best and most meaningful way possible”.
The disaster was the latest in a string of tragedies to befall the garment industry in Bangladesh which is a mainstay of the economy.
A fire at another factory in November killed 111 and Western firms have told industry bosses that they are considering their presence in Bangladesh.
Cabinet Secretary Musharraf Hossain said the government was now ordering a new round of safety inspections.
“They will inspect all garment factories and see their conditions and safety standards. The aim is to prevent this kind of disaster,” he said.
The government made a similar announcement after the November fire but subsequent inspections were widely derided and resulted in few arrests.