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UN offered expert rescue team within hours after building collapse

David Bergman

Three hours after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, a senior official of the United Nations spoke to the director general of the national fire service reminding him that the government could ask for specialist search and rescue teams to come to Dhaka.
‘Three to four hours after the disaster I phoned the director general of the Fire Brigade, and reminded him that the government was a member of the network of countries in the UN’s International Search and Rescue Advisory Group and it could ask a specialist team to come to Dhaka.’ said Gerson Brandao, the Humanitarian Affairs Adviser.
On Sunday, New Age reported that the government had rejected offers of international search and rescue assistance, including a formal offer of sending a team of specialists from Britain.
The UN Humanitarian Adviser said that it was not appropriate for him to suggest more strongly to the fire service director general that the government seek outside assistance, as he was ‘confident that the people on [the collapse] site would be in a better position to suggest what assistance was required.’
‘The director general said that he would consult his seniors, that [the government] promised to look into it, and that he would get back to me about whether they needed additional assistance,’ Gerson added.
INSARAG is a network of disaster-prone and disaster-responding countries and organisations dedicated to urban search and rescue and operational field coordination. Bangladesh is a member.
‘These are a group of people who are experts, they have dogs, micro-cameras and other equipment that we do not have in Bangladesh. They would normally bring a scanner that can detect body heat under rubble,’ Gershon said.
He explained that he had discussed the issue with the fire service director general as he was the focal point of the UN INSRAC in Bangladesh.
The UN official said that since there was no feedback from the government he followed up his initial call with another one on the following afternoon. ‘I understood [from that discussion] that it was still being discussed,’ he said.
When asked whether or not the matter should have been pushed more firmly by the UN, Gershon said, ‘We have absolutely put enough effort in trying to persuade the government to use international assistance. We reminded them what could be provided by INSARAG. It is the government’s decision to ask.’
Ahmed Ali, the head of the national fire service acknowledged that he had received the call from the UN Humanitarian Affairs Adviser.
‘The ministry of disaster management said that if some country can give us equipment without manpower, we could just take the equipment,’ he said.
‘But I told them that this would waste time because if we got equipment without manpower, we would need to be trained to use the equipment. This was the kind of discussion that was happening. And then it became a little late to bring them. The ministry acted late.’

Correction: In the seventh paragraph, the word 'people' has been replaced by the words 'body heat'

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