| Press release
Dead bodies from natural disasters and conflict do not generally pose health risks, Red Cross and WHO say
Geneva –Amiddevastatingloss of life due to disasters and conflict, there is often unfounded fear and misunderstanding concerning the dead. It is therefore important that communities have the tools and information they need to manage dead bodies safely and with dignity.This is in part to help survivors along the path to recovery,the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) said today.
When many people die in natural disasters or armed conflict, the presence of these bodies is distressing for affected communities. Some may move quickly to bury bodies, such as in mass graves, in part in an attempt to manage this distress, and sometimes because of the fear that these bodies pose a health threat. This approach can be detrimental to the population, the organizations said.
Though local authorities and communities can be under immense pressure to bury the dead quickly, the consequences of mismanagement of the dead include long lasting mental distress for family members as well as social and legal problems. Well managed burials include easily traceable and properly documented individual graves in demarcated burial sites. This should ensure that the exact location of each dead body, as well as the associated information and personal belongings, is known as outlined in guidance developed by the organizations, in particular theICRC/IFRC/WHO Manual for the Management of the Dead After Disasters. Cremations should not take place before the body is positively identified.
In order to support better management of the dead, the organizations provide supplies and expertise to local authorities to help them manage the sometimes-overwhelming task of burying the dead. Today in Libya, Red Cross and WHO teams are working directly with authorities, communities and the Libyan Red Crescent Society, supporting them with guidance, materials, and training. The ICRC and WHO are both delivering body bags in Libya to help with the dignified treatment of the dead.
The bodies of people who have died following wounds sustained in a natural disaster or armed conflict almost never pose a health danger to communities. This is because victims who have died from trauma, drowning or fire do not normally harbour organisms that cause disease with common precautions. The exceptions are when deaths occur from infectious diseases such as Ebola or Marburg diseases or cholera, or when the disaster occurred in an area endemic for these infectious diseases.
Under any circumstance, dead bodies near or in water supplies can lead to health concerns, as the bodies may leak feces and contaminate water sources, leading to a risk of diarrheal or other illness. Bodies should not be left in contact with drinking water sources.
“The belief that dead bodies will cause epidemics is not supported by evidence. We see too many cases where media reports and even some medical professionals get this issue wrong,” said Pierre Guyomarch, the head of ICRC’s forensics unit. “Those who survive an event like a natural disaster are more likely to spread disease than dead bodies.”
“We urge authorities in communities touched by tragedy to not rush forward with mass burials or mass cremations. Dignified management of bodies is important for families and communities, and in the cases of conflict, is often an important component of bringing about a swifter end to the fighting,” said Dr Kazunobu Kojima, Medical Officer for biosafety and biosecurity in WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.
“An unnecessary rush to dispose of bodies of those killed in disasters or conflict deprives families of the opportunity to identify and mourn their loved ones, while providing no public health benefit. Dignified treatment of the dead requires appropriate time to identify the deceased and mourn and perform funeral rites in accordance with local cultural and social norms,” said Gwen Eamer, IFRC’s Senior Officer for Public Health in Emergencies and Head of Emergency Operations, Morocco Earthquake Response.
The ICRC, IFRC and WHO wish to remind authorities and communities of the following:
While it is distressing to see dead bodies, community leaders or authorities should not hastily bury bodies in mass graves or carry out mass cremations. Burial or cremation procedures must keep in mind cultural, religious, and family concerns.
The bodies of those who die from natural disasters or armed conflict are generally not a source of disease.
Unless the deceased has died from a highly infectious disease, the risk to the public is negligible. However, there is a risk of diarrhoea from drinking water contaminated by faecal material from dead bodies. Routine disinfection of drinking water is sufficient to prevent waterborne illness.
Rapid, disrespectful mass burials or cremations, make identification of the dead and notification to family more difficult and sometimes impossible.
The only time dead bodies pose a health risk of epidemics is when the deaths resulted from some infectious diseases or when a natural disaster occurs in an area where such a disease is endemic.
Lime powder does not hasten decomposition, and since dead bodies in disaster or conflict are generally not an infectious risk, the disinfection of these bodies is not needed.
After any contact with the deceased, hands should be washed with soap and water, or cleaned with alcohol-based hand rub if there is no visible soiling.
The ICRC, IFRC and WHO urge all parties to conflict, and responders in disasters, to follow established principles for the management of dead bodies, for the good of all of society, and have offered further support as needed.
For more information, please contact:
ICRC media office:[email protected]
IFRC media office:[email protected]
WHO media office:[email protected]
Floods are when water overflows from the normal boundaries of a stream, river or other body of water, or accumulates in an area that is usually dry.There are two main types of floods. Inundation floods are slow and develop over hours or days. Flash floods occur suddenly, often without warning and usually due to heavy rain. Though annual flooding is a natural phenomenon in many parts of the world, human habitation and land-use practices have led to an increase in frequency and size of floods. Floodsare also predicted to become even more frequent and severe in future due to climate change. Floods can be extremely dangerous and cause massive human, environmentaland material damage to communities.
| Press release
Indonesia-Timor Leste: Race to contain COVID-19 after deadly floods
Kuala Lumpur/Jakarta/Dili, 13 April 2021 –Urgent measures are needed to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, while providing relief to thousands of people hit by record floods and mudslides that have claimed more than 200 lives, according to authorities in eastern Indonesia and Timor Leste.
Timor Leste is in the grip of a new wave of COVID-19 infections after a year of keeping the virus under control. The official number of cases has surged ten-fold from just over 100 to almost 1,000 in the past month, threatening the country’s fragile health system.
More than 33,000 people have been directly affected by floods and landslides described by authorities as the worst to hit Timor Leste and parts of eastern Indonesia in more than 40 years.
President of Timor-Leste Red Cross, Madalena da Costa Hanjan Soares, said:
“It’s heartbreaking to see people making a choice between having a safe shelter, adequate food and water, or trying to avoid the spread of this deadly COVID-19 virus.
“Our Timor Leste Red Cross volunteers have been specially trained and they’re doing everything possible to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. This is a race against time. The longer people have to stay in these temporary shelters, the higher the risk of a mass outbreak.”
Red Cross rescue teams in Timor Leste and Indonesia have been searching for survivors, evacuating people to safety, and distributing relief including food, blankets, tarpaulins, clothing and hygiene supplies. Efforts have been ramped up to provide safe water for drinking and hygiene, to help prevent disease outbreaks.
Indonesia is the second-worst affected country in Asia, with more than 1.5 million cases of COVID-19 recorded and more than 4,000 new infections a day.
The Secretary General of Indonesian Red Cross, Sudirman Said, said:
“The loss of life has been tragic and comes as a brutal blow to families already exhausted and overwhelmed by this COVID-19 pandemic. Our teams are working all hours to search for survivors, providing critical food, water and other relief while keeping people safe.”
Jan Gelfand, Head of the Indonesia and Timor Leste Delegation, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said:
“COVID-19 is stretching the health systems in Indonesia and Timor Leste to breaking point. Further COVID-19 outbreaks or other deadly diseases, such as cholera, dysentery and dengue fever, could push them over the edge.
“In many parts of the world, clean water, soap and face masks may seem like small things but if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that they save many lives. Every effort must be made to race these essentials to people so they can be protected after surviving these deadly floods.”
Malaysian 2021 Floods: In Pictures
Photos by Fadza Ishak/IFRC and Malaysian Red Crescent Society.
Continuous torrential rain in eastern and southern peninsula Malaysia has caused rivers to burst their banks, flooding hundreds of communities and towns.
The Malaysian Red Crescent worked alongside authorities as an emergency alert was issued and more than 52,000 people were evacuated when waters rose, reaching roofs and second stories within hours of the alert.
Tens of thousands of people were badly affected as severe floods hit towns in the states of Terengganu, Pahang, and Johor. Many communities were cut off, surrounded by floodwater.
In many areas where waters have receded as fast as they came, thick mud and muck coated thousands of houses, damaging virtually all households content.
Household possessions -- toothbrushes, towels, utensils, pillows, mattresses, furniture and even personal clothes and valuables -- were coated with thick mud and muck.
Cars and large household items were swept away, and damaged beyond repair.
When the floods receded, people were devastated by the damage left behind. Homes by the river were among the worst hit, with water sweeping through doors and windows and carrying personal belongings away. Adding to the hardships, the flash floods took place in the middle of a worsening Covid-19 pandemic.
Even though the worst of the flash floods have slowly receded, many areas still remain submerged under stagnant waters. The water levels reportedly rose to heights of up to 10 meters, submerging houses, schools, shops, power poles, and other infrastructure.
The Malaysian Red Crescent teams worked alongside local authorities to provide essential relief such as rice, dry noodles, milk powder, dignity kits, detergent and more for the affected communities. In some areas, authorities travelled by boat to reach houses that had been completely isolated by stagnant waters.
Loh Chin Sin, 74, returned to his home of 40 years to find all his belongings destroyed. Although these areas experience flooding and mass evacuation every year during the rainy season, this year was far more severe, with more than 52,000 people having to abandon their homes and discard almost all of their belongings.
Some of those severely affected are camped on roadsides and bus stops, waiting for the water to recede. Malaysian Red Crescent and authorities are providing accommodation at emergency shelters along with food and essential items.
To make matters worse, farm animals of all kinds and pets have been swept away or isolated. Volunteers have managed to rescue those that were thankfully found.
The IFRC and Malaysian Red Crescent deployed its staff to work alongside authorities to keep people safe during evacuation and ensure their access to essential relief supplies. Malaysian Red Crescent have been on the ground for months before, conducting COVID-19 related activities to these remote communities in the state of Pahang and Terengganu.
Indonesia: Red Cross continues to support as further rains are forecast
Volunteers and staff from Palang Merah Indonesia are continuing to support flood-affected communities as the country braces for further heavy rains and storms forecast in the coming days and weeks.
Flash floods, flooding and landslides have killed 67 people and injured a further 110 since the crisis began on 28 December. Since then, more than 100,700 people have been displaced from their homes and communities in 255 sites across North Sumatra, West Java, Bengkulu and Jakarta. At the height of the crisis, some 300,000 people were displaced in the greater Jakarta metropolitan area alone.
Palang Merah Indonesia has deployed 455 volunteers and staff, 15 ambulances, 13 water tankers, 12 rubber boats and nine trucks in support of the affected communities, and has provided more than 90,000 food packages in the Central Jakarta and West Java areas.
The teams are responding on several fronts: helping people to evacuate and supporting them in centres; helping people to return home when it is safe to do so; providing first aid, health services and emotional support; and distributing clean water and running public kitchens. Volunteers and staff are also helping people clean the mud and debris left behind and spraying disinfectant to reduce the risk of diseases such as dengue and leptospirosis.
The heavy rains that caused the disaster were the most intense since records began in 1966, with Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency measuring 377 mm of rainfall on New Year’s Eve at an airport in East Jakarta. Rainfall above 150mm per day is considered extreme.
The flooding and landslides have caused extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure, including hundreds of homes and 20 bridges. A state of emergency is still in place in several flood-affected areas.
Indonesia: record rainfall leads to New Year flood disaster
Indonesia has been hit by widespread flooding after days of its most intense rainfall since records began, prompting the evacuation of more than 31,200 people from Jakarta alone
Flash flooding and landslides have reportedly killed 16 people, injured 100 others, and damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings across several provinces, including North Sumatra, West Java, Bengkulu and Jakarta.
The Indonesian Red Cross – Palang Merah Indonesia, or PMI – has deployed 456 volunteers to support the affected people and meet the rising humanitarian needs.
On 31 December, Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency measured 377 mm of rainfall at an airport in East Jakarta – the highest since records began in 1966. Rainfall above 150mm per day is considered extreme by the agency.
In coordination with the authorities, Red Cross staff and volunteers have been helping with evacuation, search and rescue, assessment, setting up field kitchens and delivering emergency supplies. Aid delivered by 2 January has included seven rubber boats, 400 hygiene kits, 200 tarpaulins, and 500 sarongs. Staff and volunteers are using two-way communication (for example using the hashtag #TanyaPMI or Ask PMI) to spread life-saving messages on evacuation and avoiding hypothermia.
| Press release
Kenya: Red Cross responds to humanitarian emergency following deadly floods
Nairobi/Geneva, 25 November 2019—Thousands of people across Kenya have been hit by deadly floods and mudslides. At the epicentre of the current floods, in West Pokot, panic-stricken survivors have deserted their villages after losing their homes, livestock, crops and their loved ones—in what some local residents have described as their worst disaster in memory.
Dr Asha Mohammed, Kenya Red Cross Society Secretary General Designate, said:
“We’re most worried about families who have been cut off from life-saving support. They are without food, water and may require medical care. Our teams are doing everything they can to reach these areas, including using boats and treading deep waters to evacuate families in high-risk areas, conducting search and rescue efforts and providing basic health services.”
Kenya Red Cross teams in various parts of the country are supporting the evacuation of families to safer areas. Working alongside the Government of Kenya, Red Cross teams are delivering emergency relief items and essential supplies like household and sanitation items in evacuation centres hosting those who have been displaced by the flooding. Areas affected by flooding so far include Marsabit, Wajir, Mandera, Tana River, Turkana, Elgeiyo Marakwet, Kitui, Meru, Kajiado, Nandi, Kwale, Garissa, Muranga and Busia.
“The number of people who need urgent help is increasing daily as details of the impact of the disaster continue to emerge. The Red Cross had been already running programmes in some of the affected areas. With these latest worrying developments, we are now scaling up our response programmes,” said Dr Asha.
As part of the response to floods which began a few weeks ago this month, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) recently released more than 300,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to help Kenya Red Cross society support over 14,000 families to cope with the effects of unusually heavy rains for three months. A second emergency response allocation to support Kenya Red Cross is currently being considered.
With a record-breaking temperature rise in the Indian Ocean in the last few weeks, Kenya and other east African countries have been extremely vulnerable to flooding. This latest flooding incident in Kenya follows similar disasters in South Sudan, Tanzania, Somalia and Ethiopia.
“The storm is not yet over. We are concerned that other parts of the country will continue to experience destructive floods this week,” said Dr Asha. “In addition, even after the floods, there are also concerns about their long-term effects. Many people who have lost their crops and livestock will struggle to feed their families. There is also a real risk of outbreaks of waterborne diseases including cholera and malaria.”
Some of the communities that are affected by floods were still reeling from the impact of a crippling drought. They include families in Garissa, Tana River and Turkana. This recurrent cycle erodes the resilience of affected communities gradually.