By: InterAksyon.com November 21, 2013 7:37 AM
MANILA - Hasty burials pose little public health risk but can traumatize families and communities, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no public health justification for rapid mass burials, it said.
“The bodies of those who die in a natural disaster do not cause epidemics, and they are a negligible health hazard. It is probable that most victims of Typhoon Haiyan died of injury, drowning, or fire; they are not likely to have had epidemic-causing diseases such as cholera, typhoid, malaria, or the plague when they died,” the ICRC said.
ICRC expressed concern over hasty and uncoordinated burials of the dead without proper identification as they can be very painful for the bereaved.
Improper and undignified management of the dead can traumatize families and communities, and may have serious legal consequences, as it may be impossible to recover and identify the remains later, the ICRC said. The victims will simply be missing.
"People feel an overwhelming need to know what happened to their missing relatives," said Nancy Fournier of the ICRC delegation in Manila. "Families with no information on the whereabouts of loved ones are grief-stricken. Giving them the possibility to identify their missing relative – even dead – is crucial. They need to know what happened to be able to start mourning. That's why it is so important to handle remains carefully."
Around 35,000 people within the Philippines and beyond have so far asked the Philippine Red Cross to trace family members who have gone missing in connection with typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan).
There is only a small risk of developing diarrhea by drinking water contaminated by the corpses – a risk smaller than that caused by the living – and that risk can be eliminated by routinely disinfecting and/or boiling water to prevent water-borne disease," said Andres Patino, the ICRC's expert in humanitarian forensic action and the first forensic specialist to arrive in Tacloban.
"In any case, most people avoid drinking water from any source that may have been in contact with dead bodies or other causes of contamination," he said.
ICRC sent Patino to advise, coordinate, and cooperate with the Philippine authorities on the proper management of the dead.
"There are certain procedures that should be followed to preserve the dignity of the victims and facilitate their identification," said Patino.
"The dead should be properly collected and placed in temporary burial places, to allow for forensic investigation later. Photographs should be taken, and any descriptive information and post-mortem data should be recorded," he added.
In the current circumstances, with electricity and other basic necessities unavailable and most facilities destroyed, ensuring that these procedures are followed is very challenging.
"At a meeting today with the local authorities of Tacloban and the Department of Health, we agreed on an emergency plan for the proper management of the dead which takes into account the scarcity of available resources," the ICRC said.
The authorities have agreed to follow guidelines for the management of the dead developed jointly by the ICRC and the World Health Organization (WHO). The ICRC is closely coordinating its forensic action in the Philippines with the WHO through the Ministry of Health and also with the National Bureau of Investigations.