L'oeil de la Genève Internationale
December 2016

The second edition of the manual entitled "Management of dead bodies after disasters: a field manual for first responders", a collaborative effort between the ICRC, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), was launched on 1 November. The manual aims to promote the proper and dignified management of dead bodies and facilitate their identification by offering guidelines for first responders, often from local communities, in disaster situations.

Bearing in mind the logistical and human constraints arising in such situations, the manual underlines that first responders should allocate a unique code to each body, take photographs and record data as soon as possible, place each corpse in a body bag, and temporarily store them in an orderly way. It also indicates how crucial it is to establish a list of the missing and gather the collected information. Respecting bereaved families is also part of the process. Accurately informing and supporting them goes towards helping to alleviate their suffering.

The first edition of the manual was published back in 2006. It was the result of a discussion initiated a year earlier by the ICRC and PAHO in the aftermath of the tsunami that hit South-East Asia in December 2004, taking the lives of close to 230'000 people. This disaster highlighted the need for clearer and simpler guidelines that non-professional first responders could apply in such massive scale emergency responses.

In early 2005, the internationally recognized photo-journalist Paolo Pellegrin, took this image in Sumatra, Banda Aceh, during his journey to Indonesia to document the devastation left by the tsunami. Member of the prestigious Magnum Photos agency, Pellegrin was notably rewarded by the 2016 World Press Photo contest for his multimedia story intituled “Desperate Crossing”. His books include "As I was dying" (Dewi Lewis publishing, 2007) in which he says the following: "When I do my work and I am exposed to the suffering of others - their loss or, at times their death - I feel I am serving as a witness; that is my role and responsibility to create a record for our collective memory."