More than 1,100 workers were killed in the collapse of Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh
JICA's assistance for the loan for retrofitting factories
It was the morning of April 24, 2013 when the workers were killed with collapse of Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh. The tragedy gave warning to the international society for better working conditions for the workers of the readymade garment (RMG) sector.
Bangladesh is the second-largest garment exporter in the world with more than 4.0 million people (80% of them are women) working in this sector. About 80% of the exported products from the country are from the garment sector. Improving safety of those workers is one of the urgent issues for the sector.
In tackling the issue of safety, JICA redirected 1 billion taka (BDT) from the "Financial Sector Project for the Development of SMEs (FSPDSMS)" to the loan for improving safety of the factories of RMG in the country. The new loan project is also part of "the Project for Capacity Development on Natural Disaster-Resistant Techniques of Construction and Retrofitting for Public Buildings". Although the collapse of Rana Plaza was not because of the natural disaster, retrofitting techniques can be applied to improving safety of the buildings.
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed by five organizations, namely JICA, Bangladesh Bank (BB), Public Works Department (PWD) under the Ministry of Housing and Public Works, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), in October 2013.
Those who wish to strengthen or to reconstruct the RMG factories for the purpose of improving safety can apply for the loan to BGMEA or BKMEA. They select the factories based on the conditions agreed by the five organizations engaged in this program. Then, PWD sends the technical experts of retrofitting and construction to assess the condition of the factories. If the building is decided to be strengthened or reconstructed, they receive a loan from local banks, using Japanese ODA loan fund. The loan can be returned in 15 years with lower than 10% interest rate, which is lower than the market rate in Bangladesh.
Mr. Abdul Malek Sikder, Project Director (left) and Mr. Mafizur Rahman, Deputy Project Manager, in Public Works Department
JICA has been supporting the construction and retrofitting project of PWD since 2011. There are only limited numbers of experts who can examine the seismic resilience of the buildings in Bangladesh. Without this JICA project with PWD to train the retrofitting experts, the loan for RMG factories for this time could not have been started.
It is well known that Bangladesh has experienced various kinds of natural disasters, such as flood, cyclones and more. An earthquake is one of the risks in this country, but the country is not ready for it because they have not experienced any big earthquake since the end of 19th century. One of the studies estimates that more than 80% of the existing buildings would collapse should there be a big earthquake now.
In 2011, JICA and PWD started Project for "Capacity Development on Natural Disaster-Resistant Techniques of Construction and Retrofitting for Public Buildings". The project will continue until 2015. "Japan has rich experiences and top-level techniques in this field. We needed their cooperation," said Mr. Abdul Malek Sikder, Program Manager at PWD.
Though they limited the target to "public buildings," it was not easy. There are more than 5,000 buildings under PWD, but only few of them had enough records or data of construction. They had to start with creating data base for each building. The building code was established in 1993 in this country, but does not include the clauses for retrofitting. Architects do not need national qualification, unlike in Japan.
Retrofitting model demonstrated at Public Works Department in Dhaka
The experts in retrofitting are not enough. The universities do not have classes for teaching retrofitting, which means there is no way to learn about the ideas and techniques in this field in Bangladesh. Thus, under this JICA supported project, PWD sent the engineers and other staff members to Japan for training.
Mr. Malek also went to Japan in 2012. He learnt about earthquake proof construction、how to apply that techniques and how to test the resilience in the seminars and visited the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution, which was built for the memories of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake that occurred in 1995. "These techniques are also very much needed in our country, however, one big difference between Japan and Bangladesh is the awareness of the people," he said. Mr. Malek emphasized the importance of educating the people about the risk of earthquakes.
"Tragedy of Rana Plaza gave us a warning for safety of the buildings. This new loan project supported by JICA is a good opportunity for us to implement our techniques. I am also pleased to contribute to improving the working condition of the RMG sector," he added.
Many of the factories in RMG sector have been interested in this loan project. The qualified applicants are, however, limited to the direct owners of the buildings. "Since 99% of RMG companies in this country are small and medium size and many of them rent the factory from the building owners. Only limited numbers of the business owners can apply for this loan," said Mr. Ashraful Alam, Deputy General Manager of SME & Special Programmes Department of Bangladesh Bank. Although this project is limited to the factory owners, at least the initiation of this project will stimulate the awareness of the owners of the RMG business about safety of the workers. "We, Bangladesh Bank, also will consider what kind of financing they need for improving safety. Tragedy of Rana Plaza changed the mindset of both business owners and workers. We need to support them to change for the better working environment."
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signing on "TK 100 cr. JICA's Aid and Technical Support for Building Safety in RMG Sector"