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COPING WITH NATURAL DISASTERS: THE ROLE OF LOCAL HEALTH PERSONNEL AND THE COMMUNITY
( By A Working Guide (WHO - OMS, 1989) )

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Chapter 3.Dealing with the dead

When the disaster results in a large number of deaths, the community should organize:


· transport of the bodies,
· a place to put them before burial,
· their burial.

Although it is not one of their tasks, the local health personnel often have to supervise and control what is done in this domain. In particular, it is necessary to:


· remove the bodies from the disaster area as rapidly and discreetly as possible and, as soon as this has been done, attempt to gather and note down information necessary for identifying them (place where they were found, information from relatives and neighbours),

· transport the bodies, which should be covered, to the place where they are to await burial and where personal belongings are also deposited,

· identify the bodies and attach tags to them giving the identification particulars,

· draw up an official register of the deaths, containing identification particulars,

· bury the dead as late as is compatible with the laws and customs of the country, so as to enable identification; common graves should be avoided; the site of the graves, numbered and marked with identification data, should be entered on maps,

· hand over personal effects to the nearest relatives.


It is known that the risk of epidemics comes not from a large number of deaths but from endemic diseases already existing in the area. When it is feared that an endemic disease may spread (cholera, for example, in a displaced persons’ camp), the staff handling corpses should wear gloves, wash frequently with soap and use disinfectant. Personal effects should also be disinfected before being given back to relatives.

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