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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

National pride more important than saving lives?

Update : 03 May 2013, 06:35 PM

It is reported that the Bangladesh government chose not to accept offers of search and rescue teams from Britain and other countries to free people trapped in the collapsed Rana Plaza at Savar.

Reporterdly, it was feared that accepting aid would damage national pride. Both the UK government and the United Nations said they had teams of experts ready to head out to Bangladesh but their offer of help was turned down.

The home minister of Bangladesh defended the decision of the government as they “were confident we could manage it ourselves.”

He further said: “We did a good job and I am proud of my people - the firemen, the military, the police, the local volunteers who all came in to help.” By May 3, around 2,400 people were rescued alive and 442 dead bodies were recovered from beneath the collapsed eight-storey building. Though untrained and ill-equipped, the volunteers, the army, the firefighters and the police did a remarkable job in making the rescue operation as effective as it was.

Our hats are off to those who worked day and night, often without proper gear, taking great personal risks.

Even so, despite how people of the country rose to the occasion, what was wrong in accepting foreign help for the rescue operation?

The search and rescue teams of the UK and the US have vast experience in similar operations, particularly in earthquake-stricken areas. They have trained personnel and specialized equipment to locate and rescue victims from beneath debris. Both the foreign and local teams could take part in the rescue operation together.

With the participation of skilled professionals, we could perhaps have saved far more lives - including victims like Shaheena who, unfortunately, succumbed to death waiting for over 100 hours to be rescued. She died, in the course of being rescued, because of a fire resulting from cutting of an iron rod with a gas flame.

Moreover, getting assistance would also provide good training and a unique experience for our volunteers so that they could work with skilled experts and improve their own skills significantly.

It is difficult to understand how our national pride could be damaged by accepting foreign assistance in rescuing people from a collapsed building. Turkey accepted foreign assistance after the earthquakes of 1999 and 2011.

Even Japan, an economic superpower, did not hesitate to accept foreign assistance after the devastating tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear accident of 2011.

Do we not damage our pride by exposing our garment, textile and other industry workers to the hazards of fires and collapsed buildings every now and then? Are we proud that we have one of the highest rates of road fatalities (6,300 per 100,000 vehicles/year), occupational fatality rates (26.4 per 100,000 employees/year) and occupational non-fatal accidents rates (20,132 per 100,000 employees/year) in the world?

Let us not be too sensitive about our pride for the wrong reasons. There is absolutely nothing wrong in accepting aid during a disaster like the collapse of a building with about 4,000 people inside.

We saved over 2,500 lives. What was wrong with trying to save more? After all, national pride cannot be more important than saving lives of victims of calamities. 

Dr Abdul Matin is a former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.  

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