Published: Monday, April 29, 2013

Havoc around lack of data

A photo of the Rana Plaza disaster taken from the rear of the building at Savar bazaar bus stand yesterday. A few cranes have been deployed to move the rubble. The nine-storey building collapsed on Wednesday morning, killing over 370 people, mostly garment workers. Photo: Anisur Rahman

A photo of the Rana Plaza disaster taken from the rear of the building at Savar bazaar bus stand yesterday. A few cranes have been deployed to move the rubble. The nine-storey building collapsed on Wednesday morning, killing over 380 people, mostly garment workers. Photo: Anisur Rahman

Josna Begum desperately asked around for the whereabouts of her son Jasim, a 22-year-old worker in a garments factory which used to be on the fourth floor of the collapsed Rana Plaza.
Her anxious query… “Where is my son?”… remained unanswered for the past four days apparently due to the lack of a database system to list the names of the victims, both dead and alive.
Josna visited the Adhar Chandra High School playground in Savar, along with 15 relatives, to identify if Jasim was amongst the dead brought there. They even checked morgues in Dhaka for his body.
They missed none of the hospitals, clinics, or primary healthcare centres in Savar, and even visited Dhaka clinics and hospitals, where many of the injured were taken.
The family meticulously went through all the lists of the injured being treated at every outlet to no avail. They had listed Jasim’s name at the playground as missing since the collapse, but no news of him surfaced.
Many others like Josna frantically searched for their missing relatives, but returned empty handed with mounting despair — just because a coordinated database system to keep track of the victims was not implemented.
“There is no central place where one can report missing persons, register for voluntary work, donations, obtain information as to what kind of aid is needed, or even receive feedback on the activities taking place over there [site of the collapse],” said DataSoft COO Manjur Mahmood.
Manjur also said a comprehensive database of the victims could have easily been made using smart apps on a smart-phone, and added that a simple installation of a call centre, which would direct any queries to the right person, was necessary.
Official sources could not confirm, to date, the number of people who were inside during the collapse. No serious move has either been made by them to find out this data and give it to the people concerned.
Even the exact number of people rescued since Wednesday was uncertain as no logs were maintained.
Although the missing persons cell at the school playground has been taking names and contact addresses of missing persons, it did not have a comprehensive list of people admitted to the different hospitals in Savar and Dhaka.
The cell has listed more than 1,020 missing persons. However, the list was not updated once relatives actually managed to find them — dead or alive.
Lack of coordination is also hampering aid distribution. Organisations and individuals are sending help on an ad-hoc basis. As a result, there is a surplus of aid items such as blood.
A person interested in helping the victims, told The Daily Star that she was lost as to where she could donate money to treat the critically injured. “Am I to go from hospital to hospital looking for them?” she asked.
Humanitarian Adviser to UN Resident Coordinator Gerson Brandao stressed the need for an onsite operation coordination centre for effective disaster management.
“It is a simple recording system that keeps track of people dead or alive taken out of the place of disaster. The same centre can also be used to collect and disseminate information about the major needs of the rescue operation,” he said.
He also pointed out the redundancy of having two control rooms for such a situation in Savar — one run by the district administration and the other by the armed forces — as all information and data ideally should be centralised and disseminated from one single source.
“As soon as you rescue someone, you can put a tag on him, without even asking for his details. Then, once he is admitted to a hospital, it can let the central desk know: ‘Tag no 234′ is in hospital X undergoing treatment,” said the Bangladesh Disaster Preparedness Centre Director Saidur Rahman as he explained how a manual system could also be developed very easily.