Jica stresses workers' safety
- It calls for protective measures to save all workers from Covid-19
- Jica sent letters to the ERD three times on 18 March, 18 June, 20 September
- It says a lack of proper measures may lead to new clusters of Covid-19 infection, which will delay project implementation and incite criticism
- Experts feel implementation of Jica's proposals will increase project costs and delay implementation
- Number of Jica-funded projects 84
- Total project cost Tk2,70,258 crore
- Jica to provide Tk2,00,401 crore
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) has been repeatedly urging the Bangladesh government to take adequate measures to protect all personnel engaged in the 84 Japanese-funded development projects around the country from Covid-19.
It also wants the government to provide medical care to those who have been already infected.
The organisation has written to the government's Economic Relations Division (ERD) three times so far on this issue.
In the latest letter sent to ERD Secretary Fatima Yasmin on 20 September, Hayakawa Yuho, chief representative at the Dhaka office of the organisation, said new clusters of Covid-19 infections could emerge if proper measures are not taken to protect everyone, including consultants, contractors and workers, from the coronavirus.
This will delay the project implementation and will also cause criticisms.
Earlier, Jica sent letters to the ERD on 18 March and 18 June.
In the latest letter, Hayakawa Yuho expressed his dissatisfaction over the lack of action on part of the Bangladeshi authorities to execute the safety proposals put forward in the previous letters.
The Business Standard made several calls to the ERD Secretary Fatima Yasmin to know what measures the government has taken in response to the letters written by Jica, but she did not answer. She did not also reply to a text message seeking comments on the issue.
ERD officials, wishing anonymity, said Jica's letters have been sent to the project officials and the implementing agencies. They have been asked to explain their position and initiatives in this regard, the officials added.
TBS also emailed Jica for its comment on this matter, but no reply came from the Dhaka office of the organisation until the filing of this report on Friday evening.
People involved with the project, meanwhile, said implementation of Jica's proposals to take protective measures against the coronavirus will increase the project costs enormously. This will also delay the implementation of the projects, they added.
The total cost of the 84 projects being funded by Japan has been estimated at Tk2,70,258 crore. Of this, Japan will provide Tk2,00,401 crore.
In the latest letter, the Bangladesh mission chief of Jica also mentioned that Covid-19 will not be eradicated in Bangladesh anytime soon, even though the country has passed six months of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
Therefore, work will have to be continued in the "new normal" situation for quite a long time, he said, adding, "The coronavirus situation might take a severe turn in the project areas if the number of workers is increased without taking proper precautionary measures."
Hayakawa Yuho further said, "As international experts working in various projects have started coming back to Bangladesh, there is a possibility that project works will also get back pace.
"However, the presence of a large number of workers might lead to a surge in coronavirus cases in the project areas. Implementation will be hampered if the projects turn into coronavirus clusters due to a lack of proper measures."
Jica also attached copies of several international guidelines on Covid-19 alongside that of the health directorate of Bangladesh with its letter and called for taking steps in line with those instructions.
The organisation demanded that testing and treatment facilities are increased in the project areas. It also called for constructing isolation centres and ensuring accommodation for a large number of workers on the project sites.
It also recommended that the government amend project contracts by fixing the costs for these measures, as these issues are not mentioned in the existing contracts of the projects.
In the metro rail construction project in Dhaka, two hospitals have already been constructed alongside conducting screening and coronavirus testing of workers and ensuring quarantine and isolation centres in compliance with Jica recommendations.
Some measures were also taken in several projects, including the coal-fired power plant in Matarbari, at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.
Nonetheless, Jica is asking for similar measures in all project areas.
Foreign consultants for many projects have not yet arrived in Bangladesh due to a lack of necessary safety measures to prevent the coronavirus. They are working on the projects from their countries. This has slowed down the implementation of the project.
Economist Ahsan H Mansur said if the projects are implemented in compliance with Jica's conditions, costs will go up. Having arrangements for isolation and quarantine in project areas will also slow down the projects.
In that case, both the cost and implementation time of the projects will have to be increased, he said. He, however, acknowledged that taking measures to address the risks of the coronavirus is also necessary.
According to sources at the Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited (DMTCL), the implementing agency of the metro rail project, construction work on the project from Uttara to Motijheel came to a standstill after more than a hundred workers came down with Covid-19.
Work has started on a limited scale in some parts of the project after the construction of two hospitals and setting up of accommodation and isolation centres.
People involved with the project feel starting the metro rail service in December next year will be difficult as the Japanese contractor had stopped work in the Agargaon-Motijheel section of the project after it had made 43.46% progress.
Jica is providing Tk29,117 crore for the Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit Development Project (Line-5) project involving an estimated cost of Tk41,238 crore, which has been underway since last year, for the construction of a metro rail line from Hemayetpur in Savar to Bhatara in the capital.
Even though Tk800 crore has been allocated for the project in the current fiscal year, the Japanese consultants left the country in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, before the work could start.
Aftab Hossain Khan, director of the project, said work stumbled at the beginning as the foreign consultants did not return.
However, foreign consultants have started to come back since August, he said, adding initiatives have also been taken to ensure their health safety.
Meanwhile, Jica is providing Tk39,450 crore for the Tk52,561-crore Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit Development Project (Line-1) for the construction of the country's first underground metro rail from the Airport to Purbachal via Kamalapur and Natunbazar.
According to DMTCL officials, the consultants on the project are working remotely from Japan. Only seven consultants are currently staying in Bangladesh, they added.
On the other hand, Tk13,303 crore was spent on the Tk35,984-crore Matarbari coal-fired power plant project as of July this year. The project has been underway since 2014.
Md Abdul Mottalib, managing director of Coal Power Generation Company Bangladesh Limited, said more than 100 consultants and engineers working with the project are still away amid the pandemic.
He added that foreign workers have been staying on ships since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. They are being provided with protective materials including masks and sanitiser, he added, which ramps up the cost of the project.
"More than 600 foreign nationals are engaged with the project, but 500 among them are currently present here."