ICRC’s Innovation Initiative has supported the launch of several innovative pilots that are currently being tested by ICRC and its partners. Over the course of the next months the GPHI2 blog will be showcasing a new innovate project every week. We start off the series with a project brief on ongoing efforts to develop a more effective body bag

The ICRC’s Forensic Unit provides advice, support and training to local authorities and forensic practitioners in searching for, recovering, analyzing, identifying, and managing large numbers of unidentified remains in varying states of preservation. In the context of humanitarian forensic action, the ICRC has time and again been confronted to the challenge of storing remains appropriately. Current body bags have inherent limitations such as the relatively fast decomposition rate of dead bodies kept in unrefrigerated conditions, which may impact their successful identification.

In order to facilitate and improve the outcome of recovery and analysis of the dead in humanitarian settings, the ICRC has expressed the need to develop a new type of body bag that allows for improved conservation of the dead, at equally affordable costs to the body bags currently used. To make this idea a reality, the ICRC has partnered with THE Port association, who organised a humanitarian, technology related hackathon hosted by CERN


The Pilot

In November 2014, THE Port organised a hackathon at CERN, an event where selected individuals combine science and technology to develop solutions to pressing humanitarian challenges. This hackathon brought together a multidisciplinary team who developed a preliminary prototype for a new generation body bag. The prototype found high interest and good feedback from the ICRC’s Forensics Unit leading to the pursuit of development of an improved prototype and work towards its industrial manufacturing. The novelty of the bag is to delay decomposition. Initial testing on animal carcasses has been encouraging and the next step will be to test the new generation body bag in the field.

Combining forces with THE Port association allows each entity to have a clear role in this pilot. While THE Ports Pier 56 Body Bag  team is primarily responsible for development and production of the prototype, the Forensic Unit of the ICRC is primarily responsible for the testing and evaluation of the body bags.

The Bigger Picture

The potential emanating from the development and manufacturing of this new generation body bag is threefold:

  • Improve the preservation rate of the deceased and positively impact humanitarian forensic efforts in armed conflict, disasters and migration by protecting the dignity of the dead victims through aiding the process of adequate handling, documentation, and identification.
  • Potentially provide closure to a greater number of families and friends of the missing.
  • Develop a body bag that can be used beyond the ICRC and its partners and become a standard product in the proper management of the dead worldwide, whichever the context.


  • 55 000 body bags/year purchased by ICRC
  • $15 is the current cost per body bag
  • With standard body bags in warm climates the decomposition process of bodies stored in standard body bags is accelerated impacting within hours the handling, documentation and identification of the dead.