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3 months ago

11 years of struggle of Rana Plaza survivors

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Eleven years have passed since the catastrophic collapse of Rana Plaza, yet survivors like Parul Begum, a former employee of Phantom Apparels Ltd, continue to suffer.

Trapped under debris for eight hours on that fateful day of April 24, 2013, Parul sustained severe injuries to her left side and her right kidney was damaged by a rod. Over time, her kidney condition has deteriorated, leading to frequent water accumulation in her body. The health complications prevent her from holding a steady job.

Parul's husband Yasin Hossain also suffered injuries, including a ruptured right eardrum, during the incident. He remained unable to work for nearly four years and now works as a security guard in a small factory. The family manages to get by with that income.

The tragic incident has left a lasting impact on many workers like the couple, with some experiencing permanent disabilities and others facing financial hardship to cover medical expenses. They have endured over a decade of suffering due to illness, disability, and unemployment.

Labour leaders and healthcare providers who are monitoring the injured workers from Rana Plaza observe a growing number of health issues among them. Although those who lost limbs received compensation, many others with severe injuries, such as spinal damage, have become unable to work. Many workers injured in the tragedy have remained unemployed for a long time.

A study published last year revealed that 54.5 percent of workers injured in the accident were unemployed. Among them, 89 percent remained jobless for five to eight years due to physical disabilities. The Institute of Social Business (ISB) conducted the survey on behalf of the non-governmental organisation ActionAid Bangladesh, covering 200 families of injured workers from Rana Plaza.

Recently, bdnews24.com interviewed 10 injured workers, as well as organisers and officials from medical service providers, to understand the challenges they face.

Saddam Hussein, 30, was a student at Tongi College in 2013. He worked for a Nestlé distributorship in Savar, housed in a three-story building next to Rana Plaza.

When Rana Plaza collapsed, Saddam was trapped in his office. Although he survived, he lost his right hand. After extensive treatment, Saddam completed his master's degree with only one hand. He received some compensation, which he used to start a shop, but he could not sustain it. Later, he worked for a friend's company for a while but has been completely unemployed for at least two years.

Saddam shared with bdnews24.com: "Although I'm officially recognised as a person with disabilities, finding a job has been difficult. I've become accustomed to managing tasks, including writing, with one hand, but it seems luck isn't in my favour."

Injured Parul said doctors inserted a tube to alleviate her kidney issues, but she still experiences pain every few days. Despite receiving compensation of Tk 190,000 along with her husband, they were unable to work for three to four years following the injury. This depleted all their savings meant for sustaining the family. Their financial situation worsened significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the pandemic, she secured a job in a factory, managing to work three days a week. However, she suffered a fainting spell on the third day at work, requiring a three-day hospital stay. Since then, she has not attempted any job. Meanwhile, her husband works as a security guard in a factory.

Parul said that they seek medical assistance from the trust dedicated to injured workers of Rana Plaza and Tazreen Fashions in Savar's Dogormora. They regularly consult doctors there and obtain medicines. She has been taking medication daily for 11 years.

SURVIVORS STRUGGLE WITH LIFE

Rehana Akhter was trapped under the rubble of Rana Plaza, and rescuers had to amputate both her legs above the knee. After extensive treatment, she became reliant on a wheelchair and could no longer engage in any work generating income.

While receiving treatment at the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed, she met Khokon Mia, a worker there. They later married at the CRP and now have three children, residing in the residential area designated for CRP workers in Savar's Ganakbari.

Rehana received Tk 1.5 million in compensation after the accident, but the pain from her amputated legs persists. Her condition prevents her from visiting the hospital due to the inability to use public transportation.

"I haven't been able to visit my village home in Pabna for a long time. Our family relies solely on my husband's modest income," Rehana shared.

Nazrul Islam, who worked on the seventh floor of Rana Plaza, was rescued around 1pm after the building collapsed. He suffered a broken spine and spent about four months in the hospital. Following surgery at Dhaka’s National Institute of Traumatology and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation (NITOR), known as Pongu Hospital, he underwent extensive therapy at CRP. Though he can walk slowly now, he is unable to perform any heavy tasks.

Despite receiving Tk 100,000 from CRP, which was used to set up a grocery store in Savar's Arpara, Nazrul's family still struggles. He still suffers from severe pain in his lower body, particularly his waist, and also deals with high blood pressure and diabetes.

Abu Bakr Siddique, who worked on the same floor, was rescued about 10 hours after the collapse. He suffered injuries to his waist, head, and a ruptured right eardrum. After more than a year of treatment, he still deals with headaches and back pain. Since 2017, he has been running a tea shop as he could not find other work.

WHAT LABOUR LEADERS SAY

Joly Talukder, vice president of the Garment Workers' Trade Union Centre, pointed out the hardships faced by injured workers.

"Their lives have become extremely miserable. While some received lump sum payments for amputations, many suffer from injuries as severe as losing limbs, such as spinal cord damage, preventing them from returning to normal life or heavy work. They require medication throughout the year."

She also mentioned that many Rana Plaza survivors struggle with unemployment, often unable to sustain employment for long periods.

She demanded compensation equivalent to lifetime earnings, following the guidelines of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention.

 “At that time, Tk 12.7 million was deposited into Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's relief fund and

some of it was given to the workers. We are calling for the rehabilitation of permanently disabled workers and those who are unable to work.

"Many received assistance initially, but there hasn't been any more help since then. They're unable to do heavy work. We proposed using the vacant land at Rana Plaza to support those who were killed or permanently injured, but nothing has been done yet. We're urging for action to improve their quality of life and prevent further suffering."

In 2016, the coordinators of the Rana Plaza Claims Administration and Tazreen Claims Administration established a trust with the remaining $1.1 million and 350,000 euros to provide long-term treatment compensation for the injured workers from both incidents.

The office and service centre of the Trust for Injured Workers' Medical Care (TIWMC) are located on CRP Road in Savar.

According to M Shahariar Rony, the trust coordinator, 1,986 workers injured in the Rana Plaza collapse have registered at their centre and are undergoing treatment. Many of these workers have been unemployed since the accident.

Rony said that between 300 and 350 of the registered workers are currently unemployed.

A doctor provides regular care at this centre for workers, with a part-time physiotherapist and psychotherapist also available three days a week. Many workers here have long-term pain in areas like their waist and joints, and a lot of them have diabetes.

The centre covers their medical consultations, medications, and travel expenses. They have partnerships with local hospitals and pharmacies for tests, medications, and supplies. Workers also receive assistive devices like wheelchairs and hearing aids.

Roni said, "Even though we have a psychotherapist here, many injured workers don't want to talk to them. They're mainly worried about not having a job and dealing with family problems, which we can't fix.

"We've noticed many workers have troubled family lives because of their injuries. They can't do their usual family duties, causing issues. Unfortunately, we can't solve these problems."

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