Management of dead bodies as a component of psychosocial interventions after the tsunami: A view from Sri Lanka

A Sumathipala, S Siribaddana, C Perera
Publication Year
Asia and the Pacific
Thematic Area
Recovery of remains / Excavation / Exhumation / Psychosocial Support / Mental Health / Management of the Dead / Identification / Emergency
Open access

Even if predicted, disasters may not be completely averted due to reasons beyond human control. There is always likely to be a degree of loss, human as well as material. Therefore, the correct strategy is to limit the damage and minimize the harm. Such damage control exercises should be mindful about the psychological costs of the disaster. Identification of dead bodies and the missing, as well as providing a dignified burial, is a crucial part of the overall management of a disaster. It will alleviate the long-term psychological as well as legal consequences. Hence, a comprehensive forensic service including modern genetic capabilities is a must for disaster response. Development of a comprehensive and efficient psychosocial intervention at community level after a disaster should recognise the importance of dead body management as an integral part of it. The guiding principles of psychosocial interventions are: to be multi-sectoral and multi-level; to include immediate, mid-term and long-term interventions; to be socially and culturally sensitive; to recognize the functionality of existing social and healthcare systems; to adopt a public mental health approach; and to be informed by evidence-based planning and implementation proven to be locally effective.