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Cablegate: Bangladesh Factory Disaster

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 001731

SIPDIS

FOR SA/PB AND SA/PD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV EAID ECON BG
SUBJECT: BANGLADESH FACTORY DISASTER


1. Actions requested - see para 6.

Background
----------

2. On April 11 at approximately 0100 local, a nine-story
garment factory building in the Savar Export Processing Zone
near Dhaka collapsed. Reportedly built on swampy terrain or
landfill, ground subsidence and an improperly constructed
foundation may have caused or amplified the collapse. As of
1700 local April 12, the death toll stands at 24, with an
estimated 350 persons still trapped under the rubble. Thus
far, 84 people have been pulled out alive.

3. Some 1500 rescuers from the Army, the Dhaka fire
brigades, and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) are on the
scene. However, progress is slow because the rescuers are
generally untrained, unequipped, and unprepared for this sort
of disaster. Narrow access roads and the lack of proper
cranes have also hampered relief efforts. In at least one
reported incident, the botched removal of debris killed
several survivors. Many trapped persons have used cell
phones to contact relatives and others to relate harrowing
tales of the building collapse and their plight. Graduates
of a 2004 USAID course for fire department first responders
to collapsed structures are on site and reportedly leading
the rescue effort.

4. The prominent owners of the Spectrum Sweater and Knitting
factory published a newspaper announcement blaming the
collapse on a ground floor boiler explosion and offering to
pay compensation and medical expenses to the victims, in
accordance with Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and
Exporters Association (BGMEA) guidelines. According to the
Chairman of the Dhaka City Development Authority (known as
Rajuk and reported to be extraordinarily corrupt), his
organization had not issued approvals for this factory's
building or construction.

5. Building collapses occur periodically in Bangladesh,
though the scale of this calamity is unusual. Introduced
only in 1993, the building code is often ignored by
developers, builders, and home owners. Building inspectors
are understaffed and poorly qualified, and often inspect only
the design plans of a building, not its construction or its
structural integrity once completed.

Action Requests
---------------

6. We recommend that:

A) A/S Rocca telephone Foreign Secretary Morshed Khan to make
the following points:

-- We send our condolences to the families and friends of the
victims and all Bangladeshis on the Savar factory tragedy.

-- We are grateful that almost 100 persons have been rescued
thus far, and pray for the safety of those still trapped
under the rubble.

-- We commend the rescue workers for their hard work and
dedication.

-- USAID has worked with the Disaster Management and Relief
Ministry to build capacity and heighten awareness about
responding to disasters like this one. In late 2004, we
trained approximately 10 members of the Dhaka fire department
as first responders to collapsed structures, and are proud of
their leadership role in the Savar rescue effort. We have
two related first responder courses scheduled for 2005.

-- We look forward to working with you on the lessons learned
from the Savar disaster.

B) The Department issue a press statement like:

We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life from the
collapsed garment factory building near Dhaka, Bangladesh,
and extend our deepest condolences to the families and
friends of the victims. While we understand that at least 24
persons have died, we are encouraged by the rescue so far of
nearly 100 persons, and pray for the safety of the
approximately 350 persons believed to be still trapped under
the rubble. We commend the Bangladeshi rescue workers for
their commitment, determination, and resourcefulness.

C) A condolence letter from the Secretary to Prime Minister
Zia for personal delivery when PACOM Commander Admiral Fallon
meets with her on April 17 or 18. Suggested text follows:

On behalf of the American people, I would like to convey to
you our deepest condolences on the tragic loss of life from
the collapse of the Spectrum Sweater and Knitting factory
building in Savar. We are truly saddened by the death and
injury of so many hard working Bangladeshis, but are
heartened to learn that many people have been rescued. I
commend to you the hard work, determination, and
resourcefulness of your rescue services.

Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you and
the people of Bangladesh during this difficult time.
THOMAS

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