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Haiti losing count of its dead

Havoc wrecked by the Haitian earthquake left nearly 1,00,000 dead. Now, aid groups are finding it hard to manage the corpses

Titanyen, January 19 -- As death sweeps over Haiti, there is not enough space for the dead. Bodies are being dumped in mass graves without identification.

Since Friday, government’s dump trucks have been carrying bodies to a new empty hole. The 20 feet deep and wide, 100 feet long mass grave is situated on a hillside, north of the wrecked buildings in Port-au-Prince.

Unceremonious burials
The dead bodies are dumped into the mass graves without keeping a tab on the numbers, taking pictures or looking for names.

There have been incidents where legs and arms of different people were reportedly tied together. Voissine Careas, a 60-year-old farmer said, “They have buried so many people here. And now, they are digging holes for more.”

The wrecked streets of Haiti have fewer bodies by the day, but morgues and funeral parlors still have more bodies than they can contain. Number of wooden coffins that are attached to trucks and station wagons are also fewer. Carpenters say there isn’t enough wood or electricity to make more.

Pegel Fleurigine, who built coffins in a alleyway for over a decade, said, “They bury you like a dog. They don’t bury you in caskets.”

A tradition lost in tremors
In addition to the havoc wrecked by the earthquake, Haitians have also lost a tradition they held dear – burying their dead.

Haitians consider the last rites as one of the most sacred ceremonies. They are known to spend more on their burials vaults than on their houses. This tradition stems out from the fact the average life of a Haitian is only 44 years. The Haitians have a voodoo belief that the dead carry on with life and that families must maintain a connection with them.

Ira Lowenthal, an anthropologist based in Haiti for the past 38 years, said, “Convening with the dead is what allows Haitians to link themselves, directly by bloodline, to a pre-slave past. Not letting the dead rest in their family burial plots, where various rituals are conducted, will severe spiritual connections.

It is a violation of everything these people hold dear. On the other hand, people know they have no choice.”

Worse than Tsunami
After a tsunami swept through Asia in 2004, the relief workers and the government put a system in place where photographs of the dead were taken before burying them, so that their families could locate them.

However, the dead in Haiti are anonymous. Mr Lowenthel said that an unparallel cataclysm has besieged the country and taken the aid groups by surprise.

“This is worse than the tsunami,” he said. “Look at the concentration of destruction.”

No Haitian wants to go to the hills of Titanyen, Mr Lowenthel added.