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.
Source: The Telegraph