The nightmare continues for many of those who survived the collapse of the Rana Plaza building on the outskirts of Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, as they struggle to come to terms with the life-changing injuries and trauma they suffered when the eight-storey complex collapsed with more than 3,100 workers inside.
The stench of death still hangs over the site of the disaster in Savar, where five factories churning out cheap clothing for big western brands collapsed like a house of cards on April 24 last year — the deadliest structural failure of a factory building ever.
Already the world’s cheapest workers struggling to make ends meet when the tragedy struck, the physical and mental injuries they suffered now prevent many from earning a living at all — and entire families have been thrown into disarray and split up.
Survivors all tell a similar story of lives blighted by the loss of their sole source of income — like Laboni Khanam, who lost an arm and cannot work; Mohammad Milon, whose spine was damaged and now relies on his wife’s income; and Rahima Akhter Lucky, who suffered brain damage and cannot be employed.
While they have had help from the prime minister’s relief fund, NGOs, charities and social organisations, many families lost their sole breadwinner and have been forced to sell off jewellery and furniture or have been broken up as they return to their villages or send children to live with relatives.
As Primark, one of the multinational chains whose suppliers operated in Rana Plaza, pays out the first tranche of compensation, survivors talk of paltry payments of between $600 and $1,200 that are quickly spent and in some cases merely cover the cost of medicines.
For them the future looks grim – yet signs of hope have also emerged from the rubble as some survivors like Shokhina Begum rebuild their lives with a determination that paints a picture of a Bangladesh whose workers continue to defy the odds and win the daily battle for survival.