Bangladesh: Authorities publish first-ever policy guideline on managing the dead after disasters

When natural or man-made disasters strike, people's lives are at stake often resulting in loss of life, serious injuries and even some who go missing.

This adds to the distress of the people affected by disasters or situations of violence. In the case of people still missing, their loved ones are not able to trace the missing person and as a result live in darkness and uncertainty on the fate of their loved one.
In September 2016, the factory fire in the industrial zone in Tongi, just outside of the capital Dhaka, resulted in more than 20 lives being lost. While some bodies were recovered, there are reportedly ten families who are still waiting to find out the fate of their loved ones whose bodies are still unaccounted for.

During the rescue operations following major incidents, some of the remains of the dead are either difficult to identify or authorities simply do not have the mechanism to formally identify these bodies and return them to their families so that they are able to bury their loved ones in a dignified way. As a result, the families are unable to come to a closure in terms of coping with losing a family member. According to local charity organisation Anjuman Mofidul Islam, an average of 1,500 dead bodies are buried unidentified in a year. To avoid such situations following disasters, where the identity of the victims remain unknown and they are buried unidentified the proper management of the dead is key.

Understanding the importance of professional and dignified handling of the dead, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MoDMR) has published a set of directives, "Policy Guideline of Management of the Dead after Disasters -2016", with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). These guidelines seek to safeguard the dignity of the deceased, contribute to restoring their identities, return them to their families, ensure respectful burial of their remains and help to reduce the suffering of communities traumatised by disaster events.

"Death caused by disasters is always unexpected and painful. It becomes even more painful for relatives if the bodies are not managed with due respect" said Mr. Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya, the Disaster Management and Relief Minister "it is important to determine the proper identification of the bodies and hence the government felt the necessity to prepare this guideline for managing the dead bodies and their identification."

"It is hoped that this guideline will contribute in bringing down the number of missing persons" said Ikhtiyar Aslanov, Head of ICRC Delegation in Dhaka. "The remains of all victims killed by disasters—both natural and man-made— deserve dignified management and burial. This first of its kind guideline will support the dignified and proper management of the dead, help the families know the fate of their relatives."

These guidelines also focus on the roles and responsibilities of the various government agencies involved in disaster response, including the management of the dead, providing clear instructions in terms of who will be in charge of recovery the identification and the burial of those bodies to the families. More importantly this guidelines will provide necessary information to the families who are anxious for news about their family members following a disaster.