Being a touch-typist has its advantages. While I am writing this piece, I have my teary eyes glued to the front page of The Daily Star, dated April 27, 2013. The page, filled with photos of men and women, crying, bleeding, dusty and scared, gives me shudders every time I read a new piece. The whole page is covered with stories from one of the biggest national tragedies to have ever taken place in the country. Around 350 lives lost, thousands trapped under the rubble alive- not knowing if they will live to see another day. With the smell of death, still fresh in the air, family members of the workers of Rana Plaza, a nine storey building that had collapsed just days ago due to poor infrastructure, run around helplessly at the sound of ambulances, hoping and praying that their loved ones are still alive or that they get to at least bury the bodies of those who are not. The sight– gut-wrenching.
In a country like Bangladesh, a disaster is always waiting to happen. Right after Rana Plaza collapsed groups of young men and women, students and young professionals rushed to the site to help in rescue and rehabilitation. But how much does the youth really know when it comes to the kind of skills one must possess to tackle such a situation? How much have they done? How much is still left to learn?
People from all walks of life participated in this rescue. Whether with full capability or not, the first instinct was to save — save as many as possible, in whatever way possible. “I got together with my friends from the area I live in, Mirpur, and went to Savar on the last two days of the rescue mission,” says Nur Mohammad Raju, a young businessman. “We could not do much since we don’t have any idea of how rescues are carried out so we did our best and supplied food and water to the victims.” Raju and his team of young Mirpur locals were clothed in red tee shirts, so that officials, locals of Savar or families of the victims could identify them and approach them for help, during the ongoing rescue mission.
Korvi Rakshand, founder of Jaago Foundation, was on spot with his team from day one after the collapse. “After we first went, no one knew what to do really. Everyone was so confused. Not just us, but also the police and others who wanted to help. We went there with a team of 40 volunteers. The police drove us away, even though we went to help. We saw that the police could not control the crowd and the stress was getting to them so we made a line, holding hands, and did some crowd control. Then the police went to take care of other places after we took control of one area. One of our volunteers even went inside the rubble to rescue,” says Korvi.
Screams of the people trapped inside were being plastered into the minds of these young rescuers. They knew they had to do something- anything. Korvi elaborates, “We then joined hands with the air force officials and started handing out supplies. Basically, the air force took care of the logistical support. We started arranging for oxygen cans, helmets, goggles,
industrial masks, raincoats, boots and more.” Like many, Korvi believes that it is about time, after all the promise that they have shown, the floor has to be given to the youth. For the youth to flourish even more prominently, the government has to take an initiative to train and help these budding heroes. “There is a programme called the Community Fire Brigade Training, which we took and it helped us at Jaago Foundation to ward of fire hazards. We do know how to take care of small emergencies, but obviously we need more skill development programmes to be ready for the worse.”
An air force official who chooses to remain anonymous shares how they were involved in the rescue mission- “We were involved in three parts of the mission- 1) directly pulling the victims from underneath the rubble. 2) Providing portable oxygen via oxygen cans. 3) We had a distribution centre where we collected supplies from whoever donated and distributed them accordingly. Along with all of that, we had our own doctor and medical assistants to give a hand in the rescue.”
The youth then had a helping hand, the air force, and they managed to work together. But what about those who were there first, the police? Were they prepared?
“It was absolute mayhem,” says a police official who also chooses to remain anonymous. He continues saying, “We had all become so helpless, we did not how to face such a situation. This is the one time I had lost all faith and hope. This was something I could not tolerate. I don’t know where this country will end up if people responsible for this tragedy are not captured and punished accordingly,” Clearly, even the most trained amongst us, the stronger ones and the ones holding the fort were also horrified and had broken down by the tragedy.
But the problem still remains- our buildings have poor infrastructure and there is no one who seems to understand that fully. Tragedies like this one have occurred before and many lives were lost then too. Why is it that our buildings are still too weak to stand?
The main concern here happens to be on the infrastructure of these buildings. ”Before building something – there should be trained architects, engineers- not just structural but also electro-mechanical and much more. These people are supposed to make sure that the plumbing, electric lines and everything else is carefully planned out, along with making sure of how much the soil that it is being built on, can handle,” says Robiul Hossain, an architect. “Building depends on a lot of factors. It is not a game that you can play just because you have money. The fact that people are getting to build high rise buildings without any proper planning and care, proves their illiteracy.”
Robiul Hossain believes that the root of such a disaster is nothing but corruption. He says, “If the National Building Code, that was established after a similar disaster had occurred in Mirpur years ago, is not followed properly, people are going to keep having to risk their lives. Even after the National Building Code was established, there was never any follow up. I believe when people are planning on building something and have to take loans from banks; these banks should ensure whether this code is being followed before giving them a loan.”
Abrar Rahman is a student North South University studying architecture. Along with his batch-mates, he will be amongst the new generation of architects who people will rely on to give them a safe place to live in, a safe place to work in. “One of the biggest drawbacks we face is that the testing of the soil, which is absolutely necessary before a building something, is not readily available. They are supposed to go to private organisations or Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology (BUET) to get the soil tested. The reason people don’t go through that process is pure lethargy and ignorance, in the sense that people don’t know how important it is,” exclaims Abrar.
Right after the building collapse, many universities and youth organisations in the country began their own, respective blood donation drives. North South University’s Social Services Club (NSUSSC) helped victims of the Savar tragedy with utmost dedication. Ehsan Majid, President of NSUSSC says, “We supplied food, water and other supplies and went to Enam Medical College Hospital and donated around 6 lakh takas. We have long term plans for the victims. At NSUSSC, we provide the volunteers with a safety drill where we are taught how to escape fires and be prepared for earthquakes.”
For young volunteers in Bangladesh, there is a short course offered by the Disaster Management authorities that can start last for three days up to a week where basic emergency skills are taught — during a fire, earthquake and more. These courses can help create general awareness and can be crucial for the youth in an earthquake and disaster prone country like ours. Workshops and seminars could be held on building safety, fire safety, preparing for earthquakes, floods and more.
At the end of the day, it has been very well established, time and again, that youth is expected to take charge, the youth is supposed to stand up, the youth is supposed to save the day. We must take it upon ourselves to search for help and gain knowledge in disaster control. We must take it upon ourselves to save our country.