PR:  Handling dead bodies with respect and identifying them in emergencies was the theme of a five-day international course conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Islamabad, Pakistan. Thirty-five emergency responders attended the course. The participants were from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Egypt, England, Hungary, Indonesia, Iraq, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam.

On the last day of the course, a field exercise checked the readiness of participants when facing a mass casualty. During the half-day mock session, a power plant blast scene was recreated and the rescue and emergency workers were supposed to respond keeping in view the standard procedures and best practices.

The annual course, pioneered in Pakistan, is in its third year and is growing in global popularity. It covers the core principles of dead body management and focuses on the new techniques and technologies of identifying and handling the dead with respect and dignity, thus minimizing the trauma of bereaved families. The course also reflects on the challenges that commonly hamper communications and coordination in the aftermath of complex emergencies.

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Cheryl Katzmarzyk, the ICRC’s regional forensic expert and the architect of the course, acknowledged how much Pakistan had improved its handling of the dead in recent emergencies. “We face frequent disasters in Pakistan and in the region. Proper and dignified management of the dead is one of the three pillars of the humanitarian response to disasters, along with the rescue and care of survivors and the provision of essential services,” said Ms Katzmarzyk.

Since 2010, the ICRC has organized 13 national and two international courses in Pakistan, training more than 400 emergency responders and forensic specialists.