Humanitarian Health Action

FAQs: Japan tsunami concerns

21 March 2011

How should dead bodies be handled?

Mass management of dead bodies is often based on the false belief that they represent an epidemic hazard if not buried or cremated immediately. Burial is often preferred to cremation in mass casualty situations.

Every effort should be made to identify the bodies. Families should have access to materials to conduct appropriate funeral rituals. Workers handling dead bodies should protect themselves from blood and other body fluids. Body bags should be used when handling dead bodies. The bottom of the grave must be at least 1.5 metres above the water table with a 0.7-metre unsaturated zone (i.e. the portion of the earth between the land and the surface).

When managing large numbers of dead bodies, attention should be paid to the fact that managing dead bodies properly and quickly and with due cultural respect, can relieve anxiety in the surviving population.

Additional information about the handling of dead bodies can be found in: