Bodies of disaster victims to be preserved for a minimum of 12 years

  • New guidelines ask hospitals to have morgue and cooling room, and authorities should give buried bodies a unique tag for future identification

Apr 9, 2019-

Unclaimed bodies of persons who have lost their lives in various disasters in the country will have to be kept safe for at least 12 years from now onwards, as per new guidelines.

A new provision in the post-disaster Dead Body Management Guidelines says the authorities concerned should properly collect and preserve sample parts of the corpse in temporary burial so that they can be identified in future.

According to the latest amendments in guidelines that replaced earlier guidelines formulated by the government in 2010, the buried body or parts should be scientifically stored so that it can be handed over to the family members once identified.

The body can be buried after collecting samples of blood, hair, teeth and bones and sending them to the forensic lab.

Dr Harihar Wasti, a forensic expert at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital who was also part of the team that drafted the revised guidelines, told the Post that the provision of keeping safe the unidentified body for at least 12 years was introduced for the first time.

“The minimum 12-year timeline was decided because even our existing laws consider a person dead if he/she doesn’t appear in 12 years of going missing,” said Wasti.

As per the new guidelines, the authorities concerned should arrange a specific area for burial of those unclaimed bodies and the area of burial site should be acceptable to the locals. Such site should be at least 200 metres from human settlements and sources of water, whereas each body should be buried at a gap of 40cm and at the depth of 1.5m to 3m.

The buried bodies should be given a unique tag for future identification and the detailed map of the burial site should be submitted to the District Disaster Management Committee, the main authority for handling the bodies as per the latest guidelines.

“The new guidelines have been drafted following international scientific practices. Even if it is called temporary burial, no one can dig it up in situations other than handing over the body to the family members after identification,” added Wasti. “If no one claims the body or the verification is not done, then the site will ultimately turn into its permanent resting place.”

Bodies coming from Kathmandu Valley and other nearby districts will be stored at the Forensic Medicine Department of the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital and cooling rooms belonging to other health institutions.

While storing bodies at the morgue or cooling room, the temperature should be maintained at zero degrees Celsius for dead bodies required short-term storage while the temperature should be minus 18 degrees Celsius for preserving corpse that should be preserved for a longer period.

The new provision has made it mandatory for all the hospitals—private, government and medical colleges—at the central, provincial and local levels to have a morgue and a refrigerator or a cooling room for proper storing of bodies.

“All hospitals should have such facilities as this is basic requirement for day-to-day operation, not only for situations after disasters,” Wasti told the Post.

Many hospitals cannot store bodies for a long time due to lack of such morgue or cooling room. Such hospitals dispose unclaimed bodies after a certain time following official procedures. The teaching hospital can hold a maximum of 200 bodies.

The new provisions, which have been brought as per the latest Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act-2017, has said the District Disaster Management Committee will oversee dead body management part in the disaster-hit districts. The National Emergency Operation Centre, the authority under the Home Ministry, will be responsible for the management, protection and other aspects of bodies of both natural and manmade disasters at the national level.

“The new guidelines have been revised as per our federal setup. It has allocated roles and responsibilities to various agencies and followed international practices for safe and sustainable management of dead bodies,” said Bed Nidhi Khanal, chief of the National Emergency Operation Centre. “Previously a clear-cut work plan was not mentioned regarding the management of dead bodies.”    

The new amendments have also said a Disaster Victim Identification Team consisting of forensic experts should be formed for identification of bodies after disasters. According to the guidelines, considering the possibility of a large number of deaths that might occur in the event of a mega disaster, the District Disaster Management Committee must identify a site where the finale rites can be performed en masse.

Published: 09-04-2019 08:03

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