Dignified management of the dead: ASEAN Member States lay importance on first responders’ role

Jakarta (AHA Centre / BNPB / ICRC) – A regional seminar on dignified management of the dead in disaster situations drew attention to the need to train first responders in proper identification of the victims. Held from 20 to 21 June, the meeting was co-organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) and supported by the Indonesian National Disaster Management Authority (BNPB).

Muhammad S. Haris, a forensic specialist from the Disaster Victims Identification (DVI) of the Indonesian National Police, explaining DVI tasks. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Mia Pitria Pangesti

Over 80 representatives of agencies involved in emergency and disaster response from ASEAN Member States – Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam – plus Timor-Leste participated in the seminar. They agreed that proper training of first responders was key to a better humanitarian response after last year's earthquake, ensuing tsunami and soil liquefactions in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Alexandre Faite, Head of the ICRC Regional Delegation Indonesia, introduces the quick reference for management of the dead handbook, a tool that is provided by the ICRC for first responders. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Mia Pitria Pangesti

The head of ICRC's regional delegation for Indonesia and Timor-Leste, Alexandre Faite, said this was a relevant and unique opportunity to share and document best practices and lessons learnt from the ASEAN region on the issue. "Dignified management of the dead remains a relevant theme for the ASEAN Member States given that the region is geographically prone to natural disasters. It's crucial that the first responders are equipped with sufficient knowledge and skills in victim identification during the early stages of search and rescue. Proper and dignified management of the dead can also help minimize the distress caused to families who lose their loved ones by helping provide answers and giving them closure," he added.

The executive director of the AHA Centre, Adelina Kamal, welcomed the collaboration with the ICRC in introducing the field book to guide first responders in proper management of the dead.

ASEAN countries have a wealth of experience in responding to disasters over the past decades. We also have rich local wisdom as well as cultural and religious diversities. The workshop intends to promote cross-fertilization of knowledge and experience of the ASEAN countries to enrich the field guide. At the same time, the AHA Centre will also use the accumulated experience and knowledge to enhance our regional preparedness for One ASEAN One Response.

The ICRC also used the occasion to disseminate the official guideline – Management of Dead Bodies after Disasters: A Field Manual for First Responders – that was updated in 2018 and to work on a regional proposal to produce a practical tool based on an existing "Quick Reference for the Management of the Dead". The participants were encouraged to adapt the global knowledge available in the field of dignified management of the dead to the South-east Asian context.