Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mass burials may complicate Philippines Typhoon Haiyan recovery

Amber Hildebrandt in CBC News: Filipino firemen and emergency workers have spent the past few days in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan filling hastily dug trenches with hundreds of decomposing bodies. But aid workers say mass graves can complicate the recovery effort by hindering identification and making it difficult for devastated families to locate possible survivors and grieve.

Mass burials began after officials became overwhelmed with hundreds of bodies — many of them unidentified — piling up near places like Tacloban city hall, triggering fears among some that the corpses could spread diseases.

But that fear is unfounded, proven false by numerous studies — a fact that the world’s most reputable health and relief organizations repeatedly try to publicize during such disasters. "The health risk to the public is negligible," said Catherine Marquis, the Canadian Red Cross’s manager of public health and emergencies. "It is a myth actually. Unfortunately, there’s a misunderstanding about the actual impact of dead bodies after a natural disaster."

If fecal matter leaches into water sources, there’s a small risk of diarrhea, but that can be corrected by disinfecting drinking water andremoving corpses from water bodies, health authorities say.

In fact, Marquis suggests the belief that dead bodies can cause epidemics of infectious diseases is one of the most significant and damaging disaster myths. In this case, not only do the mass burials hinder psychological recovery of survivors, it also complicates recovery efforts because rights to property and assets can't be sorted out without proper identification or a lengthy process to declare a missing person dead....

Philippine civilians walk out of what remains of the Guiuan East Central Elementary School in Guiuan, Philippines, Nov. 17, 2013. US Department of Defense photo

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