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Managing the dead in catastrophes: guiding principles and practical recommendations for first responders

30-06-2007 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 866, by Morris Tidball-Binz

In 2006 the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), together with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), published guidelines for the management of the dead, to help improve the management of the dead after catastrophes.

   

Morris Tidball-Binz
M.D. (Argentina, 1957), is forensic co-ordinator for the Assistance Division of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). He is a specialist in the application of forensic sciences to human rights and humanitarian investigations, including the search for the missing. 

 
Abstract 
The proper management of the dead from catastrophes is an essential component of humanitarian response, together with the rescue and care of survivors and the provision and rehabilitation of essential services. Sadly, insufficient recognition of the importance of ensuring proper management of the dead and of caring for the needs of the bereaved, coupled with the frequent collapse of forensic services in the aftermath of catastrophes, contribute to perpetuating the tragedy and trauma suffered by survivors forever unable properly to bury and mourn their dead. In 2006 the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), together with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), published guidelines for the management of the dead, to help improve the management of the dead after catastrophes. The publication, Management of Dead Bodies after Disasters: A Field Manual for First Responders, offers practical and simple recommendations to nonspecialists for the proper and dignified management of the dead in catastrophes and for the care of bereaved relatives. It also helps to dispel the principal myth which often complicates this difficult task: the unfounded association of cadavers with epidemics. The manual has proven to be a valuable tool for first responders, including humanitarian workers, for disaster response and preparedness in various operational contexts.  

   
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