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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Where bodies go after natural disasters


(CNN) -- Four days after Haiti's massive earthquake, efforts are under way to bury the dead as thousands of bodies crumpled in the streets of Port-au-Prince lay exposed to the sun or draped in sheets and cardboard.

Throughout the city, people covered their noses from the stench and some resorted to face masks. CNN correspondents in Haiti reported efforts to remove the bodies, including the creation of a mass grave. It's still unclear how many people have been killed in Tuesday's earthquake; the prime minister suggested there could be several hundreds of thousands.

CNN's Anderson Cooper, reporting Friday from a mass grave on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, described seeing hundreds of bodies mixed with garbage in open pits. Some bodies were bulldozed into the half-filled pits.

"These people will vanish," Cooper said in a phone report. "No one will know what happened to them. That's one of the many horrors.

"There's no system in place here. Literally these people here are being collected off the streets, dumped into a dump truck, then brought out here and dumped in the pits," he said.

The fear of disease is frequently the reason for rapidly burying bodies in mass graves. But contrary to popular belief, bodies do not cause epidemics after natural disasters, experts said.

"The reality is that most of the disease that live in us -- once our body is dead they can't survive very long," said Oliver Morgan, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fecal matter from the deceased could contaminate the water supply, posing a risk, but "it's nowhere near the risk of all the survivors living in the streets with no sanitation," said Morgan, who contributed to the World Health Organization's guidelines on managing bodies after a natural disaster.

There has never been an epidemic after a natural disaster that was traced to exposure to bodies, according to the WHO.

The chief priority must lie with the living, experts said.

"Body collection is not the most urgent task after a natural disaster," according to the WHO's 2006 guidance on the Management of Dead Bodies after Disasters. "The priority is to care for survivors. There is no significant public health risk associated with the presence of bodies. Nevertheless, bodies should be collected as soon as possible and taken away for identification."

Mass graves, it warned, are "not justified on public health grounds. Rushing to dispose of bodies without proper identification traumatizes families and communities and may have serious legal consequences."

"There's always talks about mass graves because that's always the easiest solution," said Frank Ciaccio, vice president of commercial services at Kenyon International Emergency Services, a disaster management company that responds to mass fatality accidents. "We don't strongly recommend them. However, sometimes in situations in very developing nations, that's the only thing to do."

In cases of mass graves, teams should at least document or photograph the individual for future identification, he said. Kenyon has deployed an emergency response assessment team to Haiti. Ciaccio was part of the crew that responded to the tsunami in Southeast Asia in 2004 and New Orleans, Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Having bodies on the street is very distressing to survivors.

"That's going to be very stressful," Ciaccio said. "It's hot temperatures and that's not a pleasant sight. There's decomposed bodies. And the hotter the weather, the quicker the decomposition."

Decomposition starts as early as the day of death, bringing stench and pests.

"When you have bodies on the street that begin to decompose, you eventually get maggot infestation because of flies and you have a potential of rats," said Vernie Fountain, the disaster task force leader of the National Funeral Directors Association.

At one of the capital city's cemeteries, people opened up old crypts and shoved corpses of quake victims into them before resealing them. Workers loaded bodies -- piled on the sides of roads -- into the basket of a front-loader tractor, which then deposited them into blood-stained dump trucks, according to CNN correspondents in Haiti.

Sometimes in situations in very developing nations that's the only thing to do.
--said Frank Ciaccio, vice president of commercial services at Kenyon International, about mass graves

"There's little dignity in death in Port-au-Prince these days," Cooper said in his report.

The United States is deploying mortuary teams to identify and bury the dead in a public safety rescue mission, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, said Thursday.

After huge disasters, mortuary teams often face logistical nightmares, working with little resources, thousands of bodies, collapsed infrastructure, language barriers and different cultural and religious views.

After working in the aftermath of landslides, cyclones, hurricanes and tsunamis with mass fatalities, Morgan realized the lack of a guidelines for handling the bodies was a recurring problem.

"What we often see are these pictures of mass graves which are dug three feet deep with hundreds of bodies thrown into this large hole," Morgan said. "That's discouraged in preference to having a more organized situation with a long trench grave and putting bodies in an ordered way, or marked graves so people know where the victims are buried."

One possible solution is to move the bodies to a temporary, organized collection point and to gather as much information to help with future identification, said Fountain, who served as a national officer for Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, a national response team designed to provide mortuary assistance in mass fatality incidents.

After the tsunami killed 225,000 people in 2004, various Southeast Asian countries handled the dead differently based on location and available resources.

While none of the countries affected by the tsunami had enough refrigerated storage to handle the corpses, many found alternatives by burying the dead in temporary, shallow graves with the intent to exhume them later. Other bodies were hastily buried within 24 hours in mass graves.

"The parallels are mass fatalities and catastrophic events," Ciaccio said. "We have a significant loss of life; we have people that are unknown; we have a significant number of missing people. The one minor difference in Thailand was that it was isolated to shoreline about a mile in. Here you have total destruction of an infrastructure system."

Speak up on ‘Allah’, Kit Siang urges Borneo ministers

Failure to speak up only serves to move away from 1 Malaysia, charges Lim. — file pic

By Clara Chooi - The Malaysian Insider

IPOH, Jan 16 — DAP strongman Lim Kit Siang has asked all Cabinet ministers from East Malaysia to declare if they agreed with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz’s bid to strike a compromise by allowing only Christians in Sabah and Sarawak to use “Allah”.

The Ipoh Timur MP today slammed Nazri for his statement, which was front-paged in Kuching daily The Borneo Post yesterday, saying that his words made a total mockery of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1 Malaysia concept.

“It seems now we are having more and more segmentation and departmentalisation rather than 1 Malaysia,” Lim noted.

“I was struck by Nazri’s announcement because just a day earlier, our deputy prime minister (Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin) said, in his talk at the Oxford Islamic Centre, that there would be no more Allah contention in the future.

“I wonder what he meant by that?” he added.

He questioned if, by making such a statement, Muhyiddin had meant that there would no longer be any “insensitive statements” made by both the home minister and the prime minister — such as those stating they would not object to any demonstrations over the “Allah” issue — which he said had caused the series of attacks on churches nationwide.

“Or did he mean that in the future, the home minister would never impose a ban on the use of the word ‘Allah’ like what happened in 2007?

Nazri mooted separate rules for East and West Malaysia. — file pic

“But now, looking at Nazri’s statement, it appears that the deputy prime minister probably meant different things,” said Lim.

He said that all ministers, whether from Umno, MCA, MIC or Gerakan should speak up and voice their opinions on the matter.

“Do they agree with Nazri’s contention? Because if they do not speak up, they are only serving to move away from 1 Malaysia,” he said.

Lim also accused the government of being insincere in talking about resolving the issue through an inter-religious conference or a dialogue.

“What Nazri said makes nonsense of the talk of resolving the matter through an interreligious dialogue.

“It appears that the government has already decided that the dialogue is not to find a solution to the controversy but to ensure that the government’s approach is accepted by all,” he said, adding advocating such a dialogue meant no pre-conditions should be set.

“All must be open, all must come without a pre-set mind, which does not appear to be the case, with Nazri’s statement,” he said.

Lim also lambasted Nazri for saying that the present spate of church attacks was proof that the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims would spur acts of violence.

“What he is doing is justifying the act and he is not contributing to a proper solution to the problem,” said Lim.

Nazri’s statement, which was made during an interview with The Borneo Post has received flak from many parties from both sides of the religious divide.

Church ministers were quick to slam his words, saying that it was a ridiculous arrangement and undermined freedom of expression.

The federal government’s highest Islamic body, the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) also maintained today that the “Allah” ban should affect all Christians in the country.

The department’s director-general Datuk Wan Mohamad Sheikh Abdul Aziz said that by allowing Christians in East Malaysia to use the word, it would not solve the present controversy due to the migration of people from Sabah and Sarawak to the peninsular.

DAPSY aims to get more voters, be stronger in party

By Clara Chooi - The Malaysian Insider

IPOH, Jan 16 — The DAP Socialist Youth (DAPSY) today pledged to register more voters and become a stronger force within the party to match its counterparts and more significantly, Umno.

Wing chairman Anthony Loke Siew Fook today admitted during the wing’s special congress that DAPSY had not performed at its optimum level and had plenty of room for improvement.

“We need to work harder as advocates of what we believe in and help the DAP broaden its base of supporters in both the national and state levels,” he said in his opening address.

Loke noted that as youths themselves, DAPSY should use its powers and position to spread DAP’s influence to the wide pool of young voters in the country.

He reminded DAPSY members of the party’s national objective of at least a 10 per cent increase in voters registered, in each constituency won by the DAP in the last general election.

“We have set this KPI (key performance indicator) so that we increase our voter base by at least 10 per cent.

“Meaning, if a constituency has 20,000 voters, we want an increase of at least 2,000 new voters registered in the constituency over this year,” he said.

Loke urged all the party’s voter registrars to take note of this and ensure that the target was met.

“It is achievable. The whole idea here is to increase the number of registered young voters,” he said.

DAPSY, he said, recognised that a large number of youths in the country were hungry for change and were big supporters of the Pakatan Rakyat.

According to Loke, the DAP needed to tap into that pool of youths in order to help secure a bigger win for the Pakatan Rakyat coalition in the coming general election.

“That is why we are encouraging voter registration. The young hunger for change but if we do not increase voter registration, then these youths will be unable to influence change for they have no voting rights,” he said.

Another method to mobilise the support of youths for the party, added Loke, was by using technology.

“We have many young representatives in the party and many of them are technology-savvy. Most of us have Facebook accounts and we use Twitter and blogs.

“This is a great way to reach out to the youths,” he said.

Loke added that the results of today’s special congress would also help clean up the organisation of DAPSY as a whole and strengthen it at the grassroots level.

During the congress today, DAPSY delegates passed amendments to 16 out of the wing’s 18 clauses in its constitution.

One of the amendments was to create a better balance among the delegates that represent the wing’s divisions at the state and national congress

With the amendments, the wing has set a minimum of eight delegates and a maximum of 23 for each division, depending on the number of members that attend the respective division’s annual general meetings.

“We also hope to increase the number of DAPSY divisions in the country. In fact, with the strengthening of DAPSY at the division level, we hope to be more active nationwide — not just in the big towns but also everywhere where there are DAP members,” said Loke, adding that DAPSY presently had 50 divisions in Malaysia.

He noted that since Election 2008, there has been a number of new branches set up in three states — Perak, Penang and Selangor.

“These are the three major states that have recorded a huge influx of new branches,” he said.

Anti-Christian Violence Erupts in Egypt and Malaysia

The notion that Malaysians will somehow wander into a Church by accident and become Christians is, of course, laughably absurd. As in Egypt, Christians make up a small minority of the population of Malaysia: about nine percent.

New American

Although the Christmas day “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has been the focus of a great deal of media attention, and his plot the enabling action for a new round of security measures, attacks on Christian congregations in Egypt and Malaysia have not received similar levels of attention.

In Egypt, where the Coptic Church celebrated Christmas on January 7 (following the old Julian and Coptic calendars), seven people were murdered following midnight Mass. According to press reports, riots then erupted during the funeral processions for six of the seven victims of the massacre. Six of the seven victims were Coptic Christians; the seventh victim was a Muslim.

Coptic Christians make up a mere 10 percent of the population of Egypt, and anti-Christian violence has long been a fact of life for the suffering minority. Attacks on the Coptic community are carried out with the slightest of provocations. As the MSNBC.com report notes,

In 2000, the deadliest Christian-Muslim clashes in years left 23 people dead. All but two of the 23 were Copts. The clashes were touched off by an argument between a Coptic merchant and a Muslim shopper in the southern village of el-Kusheh.

However, the Christmas massacre was different than much of the persecution that Copts regularly suffer: It appeared to be a planned assault with many victims. Again, according to the MSNBC report:

The latest attack, however, was unusual because it appeared to have been planned, rather than the customary spontaneous violence that arises from misunderstandings or disputes between Muslims and Copts....
 Egypt's Interior Ministry said it suspected that Wednesday's attack was in retaliation for the alleged November rape of a Muslim girl by a Christian man in the same town. The man is in custody awaiting trial.

But the account takes an even darker turn when it is revealed that not only was the attack possibly a carefully planned assault, but that the bishop of the Nag Hammadi diocese may have been the intended victim. According to Asianews.it:

Coptic bishop Anba Kirollos was the real target in last Wednesday's drive-by shooting against a Coptic church in Nag Hammadi. Meanwhile, police [have] found one of the car[s] used by gunmen in the attack on the Eve of Orthodox Christmas, but thousands of Christians attending the victims' funeral slammed law enforcement and pelted police cars with rocks.

"I was the one intended to be assassinated by this plot, and when it failed the criminals turned round and started shooting and finishing off the young ones," Bishop Kirollos of the Nag Hammagi Diocese told Middle East Christian Association (MECA) today in an interview.

In the evening of 6 January, at the end of the Christmas vigil, at least three gunmen began spraying bullets from two cars against people filing out of the church.

A security guard and six Christians were killed, mostly young men in their early 20s. A young couple and a 14-years-old boy were also among the dead.

Bishop Kirollos said there had been threats in the days leading up to the Christmas Eve service, a reason he decided to start Mass an hour earlier than normal. "For days, I had expected something to happen on Christmas Eve," he said.

The bishop left the church minutes before the attack. "A driving car swerved near me, so I took the back door," he said. "By the time I shook hands with someone at the gate, I heard the mayhem, lots of machine-gun shots."

According to a Canadian Press account on January 10, three suspects have been taken in to custody:

Three men suspected in the drive-by shooting that left six Christians and one Muslim dead in southern Egypt have denied they were behind the bloody attack on Coptic Christmas Eve, officials said Saturday.

The attack was the worst to target Christians in Egypt in nearly a decade. Gunmen sprayed a group of Coptic Christians leaving a local church after mass on Wednesday night. Six worshippers and a Muslim guard died, and nine people were wounded.

The shooting touched off two days of rioting in which 40 people were arrested, and underscored sectarian tensions in the town of Nag Hamadi, some 40 miles (64 kilometres) north of the famed Luxor ruins.

On Saturday, Christian residents of Bahjora, a village near Nag Hamadi, inspected damage from overnight arson that charred their homes. They blamed Muslims for the attacks.

The three suspects in the Christmas Eve attack surrendered to police on Friday after security forces closed in on their hideout in sugar cane fields outside the town.

Whether or not the men who have been arrested were involved in the massacre, and regardless of whether they constitute the entirety of those who allegedly plotted and executed the attack, the Christmas massacre cannot be viewed in isolation from a systematic pattern of anti-Christian violence that the Egyptian government is either unwilling or unable to stop.

At the same time, Christians in Malaysia are also suffering open persecution following a court decision over a question of translation. According to January 8 Associated Press story:

Religious tensions in Muslim-majority Malaysia turned violent Friday with firebomb attacks on three churches following a court decision that allows Christians to translate God as Allah.

"Allah is only for us," said a poster waved at one of at least two protests outside mosques in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, the Muslim holy day.

Many Muslims are angry about a Dec. 31 High Court decision overturning a government ban on Roman Catholics' using "Allah" for God in the Malay-language edition of their main newspaper, the Herald.

The ruling also applies to the ban's broader applications, such as Malay-language Bibles, 10,000 copies of which were recently seized by authorities because they translated God as Allah.

"We will not allow the word Allah to be inscribed in your churches," a speaker shouted over a loudspeaker at the Kampung Bahru mosque.

The Herald says its Malay edition is read mainly by Christian indigenous tribes in the remote states of Sabah and Sarawak.

But the government contends that making Allah synonymous with God may confuse Muslims and ultimately mislead to them into converting to Christianity, a punishable offense in Malaysia despite a constitution that guarantees freedom of religion.

It suggests using "Tuhan," but Christians say Tuhan is more like "Lord," and can't replace "Allah."

The notion that Malaysians will somehow wander into a Church by accident and become Christians is, of course, laughably absurd. As in Egypt, Christians make up a small minority of the population of Malaysia: about nine percent. Unlike in countries where substantially larger Christian communities seem unwilling to assert their legal rights, Christians in Egypt and Malaysia are not prepared to just acquiesce to such discrimination and persecution, and they are receiving support from other Christians living under Muslim rule. Thus, according to the AP article:

Bassilius Nassour, a Greek Orthodox bishop in Damascus, called the Malaysian government's position "shameful."

"It shows Malaysia to be a backward, pagan state because God teaches freedom for everyone, and the word 'Allah' is for everyone," he said.

The extent to which Christian leaders in the nations formerly known as “Christendom” will also speak out to denounce such anti-Christian violence remains to be seen.

Home Minister Hishammuddin should explain why he allowed police officers like the Selangor CPO Khalid to play politics with an eye to replace Musa Has

By Lim Kit Siang

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein should explain why he allowed police officers like the Selangor Police Chief Deputy Comm Khalid Abu Bakar to play politics with an eye to replace Tan Sri Musa Hassan as the next Inspector-General of Police instead of focusing on the core police function of conquering crime in Selangor.

The record and conduct of Khalid as a professional police officer suffered a grave dent when he was more interested in politicking, to the extent of publicly threatening to arrest Penang Chief Minister and DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng on completely baseless grounds, instead of ensuring that the Selangor state is safe from criminals.

In Selangor, guarded and gated communities are mushrooming all over the state, the most potent indicator of the failure of the police to perform its core function to ensure that the people are safe and secure in the streets, public places and the privacy of their homes.

One important measure whether the police are making progress in turning the tide of endemic crime is whether the people are dismantling or erecting guarded/gated communities, where the people have to impose on themselves a new levy of “income tax” to protect themselves from crime which should have been the basic duty of the state through the police force.

Nobody will buy Khalid’s denial in today’s press that he had threatened to arrest Guan Eng for allegedly refusing to give his statement to the police over investigations that Guan Eng had made seditious remarks about the death of Teoh Beng Hock at the Pakatan Rakyat convention on Dec. 19.

Khalid cannot deny the undeniable as his threat was reported by the media.

This is the Star report “We’ll not hesitate to arrest you, cops warn Guan Eng” on Thursday, 14th January 2010:

PETALING JAYA: The Selangor police chief has warned Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng that police will not hesitate to arrest him if he fails to give his statement on alleged sedition.

Deputy Comm Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar said a police team, including the investigating officer from Shah Alam, was sent to Penang on Saturday to record his statement but he had refused to co-operate.

Lim is being investigated for allegedly uttering seditious remarks during a Pakatan Rakyat convention in Shah Alam on Dec 19 last year.

He was alleged to have said that political aide Teoh Beng Hock’s death was murder.

“He demanded for the police report to be given to him first and ultimately no statement was recorded.

“Understanding his position and busy schedule as a chief minister, we made it more convenient for him to have his statement recorded in Penang but he continues to complicate the matter.

“I, too, have to carry out my duty as there is a police report lodged against him, forcing me to issue a notice under Section 111 of the Criminal Procedure Code to compel him to issue a statement,” said DCP Khalid.

The notice was issued yesterday. He did not specify the deadline for the notice.

That Khalid had issued such a threat is undeniable, which is most deplorable when it was completely baseless as Guan Eng had co-operated with the police team and even signed the statement concerned, although the police had failed to give a copy of the police report lodged against him.

What Khalid had done is most dishonest and dishonourable. The least he should do is to publicly apologise to Guan Eng for his unprofessional misconduct.

(Media Conference Statement at Wisma DAP Perak in Ipoh on Saturday, 16th January 2010 at 11.30 am)