Disasters, natural and man-made, always entail immediate responses and one of the most difficult is the management of the dead. The combination of a lack of local capacity to respond and the sheer number of fatalities can be unbearable for local authorities.

Endorsed by the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) jointly organised a regional workshop on Human Remains Management (HRM) and Disaster Victim Identification (DVI). This important event took place from 26 to 28 April 2010 at Ambhara Hotel, Jakarta.

Attended by 27 senior officials from the police, health authorities, disaster management agencies, and Red Cross & Red Crescent societies from ASEAN Member States, this workshop sought to improve the preparedness of these countries to meet the HRM and DVI needs arising from disasters with mass fatalities. Humanitarian concerns featured strongly throughout the workshop. Participants acknowledged that frequently, the only relief for  families of the deceased is credible confirmation of death and knowing that the remains of their relative have been or will be treated with dignity, in keeping with their culture and religious beliefs.

One of the participants, Eko Budiman from Indonesia’s Disaster Management National Agency (BNPB), lauded the relevance of such a workshop for Indonesia as a disaster-prone country. “It is very interesting and very helpful to have this kind of workshop aimed at developing capacities of countries when facing an enormous disaster. The tsunami in Aceh was an unforgettable lesson for us. We were overwhelmed, but learned from it”, Budiman said at the end of the event. Similar training has previously significantly strengthened the DVI capacity of the Indonesian National Police (POLRI) which subsequently deployed DVI methodology to identify victims of the Padang earthquake in September 2009.

The workshop concluded with a shared commitment to further enhance Member States’ capacity to deal with the dead following disasters. Participants recognised that while training was important, so too was practical experience. Member States will be further encouraged to pool their resources in response to disasters in the region involving mass fatalities.

The ICRC has been involved in restoring links between families separated by conflict and catastrophes for more than 150 years. It has a particular focus on the phenomenon of Missing Persons and the humanitarian needs of families of the Missing. This workshop is a practical example of the intensified collaboration between ASEAN and the ICRC on humanitarian issues.

The Melbourne-based VIFM’s Centre for Human Identification has developed an international reputation through its work in diverse countries and contexts.

The workshop is part of the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management’s efforts to operationalise the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER), which entered into force on 24 December 2009. The Agreement provides a comprehensive regional framework to strengthen preventive, monitoring and mitigation measures to reduce disaster losses in the region.