Survivors of Rana Plaza Disaster

Promises of help unkept

Khokon Mia helps his wife Rehana Akter move around in the residential compound of the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed in Savar. Rehana had lost her legs in the Rana Plaza disaster. Photo: Palash Khan

A lot has changed for the better since the Rana Plaza building collapse, but those who survived it continue to pass their days in trauma and hardship amid uncertainty over rebuilding their lives as the financial support they were promised remains unfulfilled.

With lives ruined and dreams shattered, many are still struggling to come to terms with their inability to function as normal human beings.  The disaster has left many amputated, turning them from breadwinners to people dependent on others.  

Rehana Akter, 20, is one such survivor. When both of her legs were amputated, she frequently wished she had not remained alive. She was a novice sewing machine operator at New Wave Style housed on the sixth floor of the building.

After the disaster on the morning of April 24, 2013 that killed more than 1,135 people and injured more than 2,500, mostly garment workers, promises were made that the victims and their families would be provided with full financial support that would include their monthly as well as medical expenses for their treatment. 

But the support received by the victims and their families so far is insufficient to meet their needs, according to the Centre for Policy Dialogue.

The eldest among her three siblings, Rehana came to Dhaka from Pabna for a job and she lost her legs in less than a month after her joining.  She and her mother had been running the family since her father died. 

She has been undergoing treatment at the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) at Ganakbari in Savar.

She receives Tk 15,000 as monthly assistance from the savings schemes donated by the Prime Minister's Relief and Welfare Fund (PMF). After meeting her family's needs, she does not even have enough money left to buy her medicines.  

She said she also needs to have her left leg operated upon, which will cost her about Tk 50,000.

“I can't have my legs operated as I don't have the money,” she said.

Among the injured workers, a few are employed locally at off-farm jobs after receiving training under various initiatives. However, in most of the cases their income is lower than what they used to earn as they cannot engage in regular work for their poor physical condition, said the CPD.

Despite various initiatives, the severely injured workers like Rehana have been living in abject conditions. Besides, the families of those who died but are yet to be identified are living in equally poor conditions, according to the CPD.

The story, however, ended with some hope for Rehana. 15 months after the disaster, an office assistant at the CPR appeared as her knight in shining armour. She got married to Khokon Mia. Despite all her loss, the couple now hopes to begin a new life.

Yeanur Akter, another injured, is not as lucky. The 16-year-old girl from Barisal worked for Ether Tex when the building caved in just five months after she had joined.

Although none of her limbs have been amputated, she finds it very difficult to stand on her feet. She too has been receiving treatment at the CRP at Ganakbari.

“My legs, head and waist pain a lot. I can't keep sitting for a long time and if I fall down, I can't stand up on my own,” she told The Daily Star.

The disaster also killed her mother, Anowara, who had worked for six years at different garment factories housed in the building. She and her mother were the breadwinners of their eight-member family. 

The Tk 10,000 assistance Yeanur receives every month from a government-fixed deposit scheme, arranged by the PMF, is spent over maintaining the family, including the educational expenses of her five junior siblings. Unable to move on her own, she is also concerned about her future.

“What will I do when I grow up? Who will look after me? I can't live like this forever. If my condition deteriorates further, where will the money for my treatment come from?”

For Rebecca, 23, the disaster came with the added shock of losing a child. When the disaster struck, she was four months pregnant which ended in a miscarriage. Then her doctors warned her against conceiving again. But she did not relent and gave birth to a boy last her through a caesarian operation.

Two years later, after a total of eight surgeries her left leg was amputated below her waist and her right leg below the knee.
The couple now live on the interest they get from the Tk 10 lakh savings certificate given by the government.
Rebeca said she and the others had yet to get justice.

"We demand capital punishment for Rana [the owner of the building] but don't hear any news about his trial," she said.
A total of Tk 127 crore was deposited with the PMF from local sources but only Tk 19 crore was spent so far for the victims and their families, according to Transparency International Bangladesh.



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