Friday, 15 November 2013

Typhoon Haiyan: WHO warns mass burial of storm victims violate human rights

The embattled Philippine government is in a no-win situation in the aftermath of super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).

One such quandary is the rising number of deaths requiring mass burial of decomposing and unrecognisable corpses.

On Thursday, the first mass burial was held in Tacloban City where the bodies were buried in a 2-metre deep grave the size of an Olympic pool.

However, on the same day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned the Philippine Department of Health that mass burials without proper identification could violate human rights. WHO cited its Management of Dead Bodies in Disaster Situations manual which states, "Burial of bodies in common graves or the use of mass cremation is unnecessary and a violation of the human rights of the surviving family members."

Besides breaching human rights, the practice could also violate religious and cultural beliefs, particularly among indigenous communities that still observe ancestral rites in burying their dead.

WHO emphasised that the threat of infection from exposed dead bodies is limited, contrary to popular belief.

However, the government is also under pressure from residents who complain of the foul odour coming from the corpses. GMA News reported that some communities in Palo, Leyte, placed messages and signs asking for authorities to remove the bodies out of fear it would cause outbreak of diseases.

Palo also held a mass burial of about 150 corpses.

For the Tacloban mass burial, to help identify the corpses, the National Bureau of Investigation removed a part of the femur from each body. Technicians then will extract DNA from each bit of bone, said Joseph David, the crime photographer of the agency.

Friday 15 November 2013


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