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In a country of a typical dictatorship, the government has planted within each person an obedience chip. This chip has a kill switch that could be triggered if the government wanted a particular person to die.

A long story short, a typical rebel group was intending to overthrow the government for freedom and their own interest. A certain evil person inside of the group decided that to kill off a major part of population would be a great idea. Sure enough, the group did; more than 100 million people died, leaving only around 2 million people to take care of the bodies.

Without a government left, the rebel group succeed and become the government. They assured the remaining population that they are not the ones who did that, rather "a stupid spy snuck out and accidentally killed of everyone". Now they are promising to their folks and other governments that they are going to find a way to dispose of the dead bodies as quickly as possible.

My question is: How can you quickly dispose of the bodies of that many people?

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    $\begingroup$ This scenario did not leave anyone wounded ? The 2% survivors are perfectly healthy people ? $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Apr 28 at 6:23
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    $\begingroup$ Nuke the site from orbit. Its the only way to be sure $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Apr 28 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ Without a government left, the rebel group succeed and become the government - government of what? With 98% of the population dead there's hardly anything to govern. $\endgroup$
    – Seth R
    Apr 28 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ Approximate size of the country? technology level? communications/conections with other countries? $\endgroup$
    – Josh Part
    Apr 28 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Mazura in an apocalypse (98% of the people dead is such) money or material is irrelevant, only the manpower is $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Apr 29 at 10:32

17 Answers 17

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Not a priority problem for the survivors

Let's be clear, this is a straightforward apocalypse scenario. If a society loses 5-10% of its population unexpectedly then civilisation will collapse. If it suddenly loses over 98% of its population then there's nothing left - the survivors will be desperately looting all stockpiles for enough essential supplies to survive the next few days. Fortunately, this is just one country, so the populace have other countries to flee to and with less than 2% of the original population they should easily be able to find enough food to get there. Dealing with the bodies will be a problem for the countries that decide to move in and occupy the vacant land.

In the unlikely event that this country is so isolated that there is nowhere to go, the survivors will need to pick a few small towns and try to secure them - towns that are close to power plants and agricultural areas are preferred. Initially the priority will be to clear bodies out of the locations with critical infrastructure - power plants, communications nodes, fuel depots, hospitals and so on - so that these areas can be used. Whatever is done will be the absolute minimum effort to get things functioning again - there will not be the manpower available to undertake even basic graves registration procedures, most likely is to pick a flammable, non-critical building with a good firebreak around it and dump them in there, then ignite it on a day where a light wind is blowing away from the buildings occupied by the living.

Once the immediate needs of the survivors are taken care of - enough housing available, clean water, sewerage, power and minimal communications restored, remaining food and medical stores consolidated - the only viable way for the country to survive in the short term will be to cannibalise the wealth (not the bodies) of the previous population. I would guess that while roughly half the able-bodied population maintain infrastructure (and hopefully start growing food for when the canned supplies run out) that the rest will be sent out in parties to secure what wealth remains. This will include:

  • Stripping unused vehicles for parts to keep the required 2% running.
  • Scavenging fuel and lubricants from all vehicles, household garages and businesses.
  • "Government approved" looting of valuables for trading with other countries for key supplies.
  • Surveying locations of stockpiles of resources - everything from bricks and timber to plumbing supplies to stationery to diagnostic imaging devices. In particular, find as much plastic sheeting/garbage bags and disinfectant as possible.

As areas are surveyed, looted and cleared the bodies will need to be dealt with. Without extraordinarily cold weather conditions, by this time all bodies will have decayed and suffered significant consumption by insects and rodents, as well as possibly larger animals. As previously, the priority will be to expend minimal effort, resources and time dealing with the bodies. There are good reasons that burial and cremation have been the most common methods of disposing of bodies in history. Incineration requires a lot of fuel per body, so it would be more sensible to use bulldozers and backhoes to dig trenches for mass graves, especially as there is plenty of land to go around with 98% of the population gone.

This would be extraordinarily traumatic work. A long time ago I spoke with a soldier from INTERFET who had to recover the bodies of civilians, including children, who were killed and dumped down a well in East Timor. Without going into details, dealing with badly decomposed bodies that come apart when you try to move them, day after day, will psychologically scar the scavenging parties. It would become much easier both physically and psychologically after more time when the bodies are reduced to being mostly skeletons with a minimum of mummified flesh remaining.

While there theoretically are other ways of dealing with the bodies - such as turning them into fertiliser - I cannot envisage such alternatives being considered given the psychological aspects.

In summary - short term, put bodies in an expendable, inflammable building and set fire to it when the wind conditions are as good as they are going to get. Long term, dig trenches for mass graves as it will require less resources.

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    $\begingroup$ This all presupposes the the country's neighbors don't just annex the territory and move in, whether for "humanitarian" reasons or otherwise. With 98% of the population gone, it's not like anyone would be able to stop them. $\endgroup$
    – Seth R
    Apr 28 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ Why not have the other countries move people in to replace the lost jobs? A joint occupation in terms of government and laws. If these countries are at odds with each other we may get a "Checkpoint Charlie" situation. $\endgroup$ Apr 28 at 21:48
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW, in some of the better historical analogies, such as the mass deaths from disease upon first contact with the Aztecs and the Black Plague in Europe, mass trench graves were used. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 28 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ @SethR agree that other countries might get involved, but with minimal details about the primary country and none about its neighbours, possibilities are also very broad. However, I suggest the top priority for other countries would be research to confirm that the cause of death is dictator idiocy and not a communicable disease before sending millions of people in to annex the territory or allowing refugees out. $\endgroup$ Apr 29 at 0:36
  • $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 darn! you can make a movie out of this plot and answer $\endgroup$
    – Sam B
    Apr 29 at 23:40
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Frame challenge, your proportions are way off.

2% of the population remaining means no critical tasks are getting taken care of. The government as such would not exist. The #1 priority of the survivors would be to survive. They wouldn't care about who's in charge at a national level because no nation exists anymore.

I would change it to 2% of the population is killed, mainly party elites/former government heads, plus a subset of co-conspirators to make it look like a fight instead of a straight up coup.

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Time would be critical. The bodies would start to decay immediately after death. Within days they will start to smell. The stench of 10 million corpses would be intolerable.

On average, every survivor would need to dispose of 50 corpses.

Mass burial using heavy earth moving equipment would be needed to excavate mass burial pits, move the corpses into the pits and then to cover the corpses with soil sufficiently deep to reduce the stench and to minimize the possibility of animals exposing some of the corpses.

Finding the land for such a scale of burial would be difficult.

Mass cremation would be difficult because of the energy requirements to burn everything, but also it would produce a huge amount of air pollution and its own stench.

For those who died along coastlines it might be possible to encapsulate some with plaster, if enough plaster existed, and then to dispose of those corpses at sea. Packing corpses into boats and then sinking the boats would be a way to dispose of some of the corpses.

I don't think it would be possible to use only one method to dispose of some many corpses.

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    $\begingroup$ Plus, that means that while they're disposing of those 50 bodies each they're not doing any of the several hundred million other things that need to be done to keep civilization in that country running. $\endgroup$
    – Shadur
    Apr 29 at 11:04
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Wolves.

Lions, Tigers, and Bears.

Vultures.

Maggots.

Nature is full of animals the would be happy to eat dead human corpses. Indeed, one historical real world religious tradition (which still has some adherents in South Asia and was traditionally common in what is now Iran), called "Sky Burial" disposes of human corpses precisely by welcoming vultures to eat the remains.

It would smell horrible for a while, but natural decomposers solve that problem rather quickly, and the smell would be gone before anyone would have time to dispose of the bodies.

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    $\begingroup$ Lions and Tigers and Bears oh my! In practice it'll be rats and mice. They're they only creatures with high enough populations and fast enough reproduction to take advantage of the bounty. There will be a full on plague of rats, better get your pipes out. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Apr 29 at 10:59
  • $\begingroup$ Will lions tigers and bears able to remain in the same area without a fight to eat dead human corpses? $\endgroup$
    – alper
    Apr 29 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ Sky burial also is the core of some Tibetan practices. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    May 1 at 19:42
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As @KerrAvon2055 explained survivors would be busy to put together the basic supplies to go on. But on the other hand they must get rid quickly of the corpses because when they'll begin to decompose they would make the whole place impossible to live in.

One quick solution would be to find disused tunnels, mines and other underground places. Fill them with the corpses and seal them. Later when they'll have reorganised their lives they could open some holes and vent the gases created by the decomposition and treat them in some way.

After some years spent just venting the burial places they would be able to reopen them one by one and dispose what is left in some other way. There would be a lot of land available at that point, they could bury them and replant some forests over the burials.

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  • $\begingroup$ If they're in tunnels they're already buried... $\endgroup$ Apr 29 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ A big pile of corpses would decompose slowly and release a lot of gases and fluids. Spreading them on a wider area in a ground richer in bacteria is way better from the sanitary point of view. The first solution is meant to be a temporary emergency solution. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    May 2 at 13:12
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Goodbye Society!

Did you know that it only takes a plague that kills 10% of the population to result in the total collapse of society? That is one in 10.

Let's do some thought experiments: Go to a typical school and count teachers. Then remove 10% of them. A typical elementary school with 12 classes has some 30-ish teachers. Now ask the headmaster how they can ensure schooling if 3 teachers are missing at the same time. The answer will be "we try to scrape by, with 3 missing we can just about work with. Any more at one time and we need to combine classes."

Go to a typical hospital. Count nurses employed. Then look at how many are currently working and how many are on call or have free days. Typically about a third of the nurses are in the mandatory free days, and the stations are at times barely staffed because one nurse needs to cover two positions. Now remove the 10% and... oops! suddenly there are stations that can't be filled at all.

Just those two items show that society will collapse already with 10% death toll. Now you propose 980% times that death toll. See what you did:

Hospitals? GONE! Police? GONE! Fire Services? GONE! Military? GONE! Electric Services? GONE! Waste Disposal? GONE!

Within minutes, the survivors face cities burning down because cooks died and hang over their gas stoves - and nobody is there to stop it. Hours later, the classic powerplants start to blow up or go out as nobody can check the settings or feeds the engines, meaning that within about a week there is no electricity left but for where nuclear power is available. But then vast areas can get irradiated as the nuclear power plant operators died on the controls and the reactors might go into meltdown.

What to do?!

The survivors have clearly bigger troubles than trying to get rid of the corpses... like fleeing their burning cities to get to a different safe country.

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The Nazis used furnaces to incinerate people. I'm sure that your rebels can cremate the remains of these 100 million people and send their cremains to the families of the victims.

A morbid answer, yes, but, if I recall correctly, there aren't many other such instances in history where millions of mass-murdered bodies were destroyed, so it's probably your best bet.

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    $\begingroup$ The energy required for cremation is staggering. You would need to reroute all energy sources able to cremate people and more to do it. That for 100 dead per 2 living people seems a bit much. You would need to put all resources to create a cremation infrastructure, making the country not function. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Apr 28 at 6:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane 98 per 2, but good enough $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    May 1 at 12:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Trish a good correcttion in many cases, but in this case short of the mark. In this case it isnt that part of the 100 million have survived. If I have 100 bodies and 2 people to solve it, it's 100 per 2. If I have 100 million bodies and 2 million people to solve it, it doesn't change. It is near certainly even worse, as "more than 100 million" have died and "around 2 million" survived. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    May 2 at 4:19
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TL;DR

Bold of you to assume that I would obey the rebel group that killed my family for no good reason but left me alive.


Realistically

You let nature do what nature does best.

You don't have to look much farther than the Covid pandemic to realize that 100 million deaths would bring things to a socioeconomical standstill and immediate regression.

https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/07/us/new-york-coronavirus-victims-refrigerated-trucks


Utopian cognitive dissonance answer

Per https://crimeclean-up.com/blog/human-decomp-without-embalming

3 hours postmortem: stiffening of the muscles — aka rigor mortis — sets in.

24-72 hours postmortem: internal organs begin to decompose due to cell death; the body begins to emit pungent odors; rigor mortis subsides.

3-5 days postmortem: as organs continue to decompose, bodily fluids leak from orifices; the skin turns a greenish color.

8-10 days postmortem: the body turns from green to red as blood decomposes and gases accumulate.

2+ weeks postmortem: teeth and nails fall out.

1+ month postmortem: the corpse begins to liquefy into a dark sludge.

Ignoring the unrealistic expectation that 2 million people spread across a country are concerned with "properly" disposing of 100 million bodies I'll just answer the following question at face value:

How do 2 million people dispose of 100 million bodies?

If the logistics were perfect then they would ideally dump the bodies in the ocean.

But alas, the bodies are not conveniently located at the shoreline. Bodies will be in all sorts of places such as homes, cars, fields, 150-story buildings, etc... which will require time and effort to reach let alone dispose of.

Realistically, they cannot thoroughly clean up the mess. You would need to reach every body by day 5 because after day 5 you need a hazmat suit or else you unnecessarily endanger the survivors.

The only immediate effort is to get bodies out of the fresh water drinking supply and out of desirable dwellings/buildings so that they remain usable.

It will be a smelly year but nature will take care of things on the streets. Maybe after a year or so there would be an effort to clean up the leftover bones and clothes.

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In fact, you do not understand what's the main problem is.

The main problem is that there's likely some age at which the mind probe is installed. I would argue that it's 6~14 years old.

That means your 2% would also face an immediate problem that another 5% of the population, little children, are now alive but fully surrounded by dead men. That's where your operation will be spearheaded, not corpses.

Also, make it a (northern/continental) winter. Most of corpses will only go bad in a spring, which is 2-3 months ahead.

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Most of the country will no longer be inhabited so you don't need to care about corpses. Imagine a large city after the event - its public transit is dead, its malls and office spaces of no use, its roads empty or blocked by crashed cars.

Life would really continue in one or two suburbs close to some vital objects such as military base, power plant, industrial zone. These will need to be cleaned but the ratio of dead to alive would be 1:2 instead of 50:1. The rest of the landscape will be left as is. Then specially trained people would handle specific buildings or cars which need a new owner, on demand basis.

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Food.

The now much smaller population will find it much harder to feed itself, given a smaller labor force, and infrastructure designed to be run by a larger populace for a larger populace.

Those dead will be in remarkably good condition, since they died without any physical trauma, or from ant disease, contagious or otherwise.

Thus the obvious, and truly necessary thing, is to feed the people. They probably won't like this, so you'll need some way to make the food appear like their regular diet. Easy if they like meat, not so much if they are vegan. Speaking of vegan, modern culinary science can easily make food look like what its not, so that may not be a problem. It is likely that the infrastructure for the necessary processes may already be in place, depending on how much your dictatorship is like the modern world. If it isn't, then clearly there are no vegans, and thus you have no problem. Also, cheap steak is a great way to show the remnants how your rule is better than the previous one.

You still may need to explain what happened to those dead, and the best explanation for those dead is to say they didn't die, but that may be too late. The chips may help with this, but you don't state if they have any purpose beyond killing people.

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Use dichotomy:

Don't kill them all at once. Kill half the people first and let the other half deal with their bodies Kill another half of the survivors so cycle

So why are these people willing to deal with dead bodies: Those involved in disposing of the corpse will be ranked by points, from the first to the 101 million Every kill kills half backwards from the list In the end, the remaining 10 million people can survive

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The United States planned for this

The morbid answer is that this is something the US government actually planned for as part of civil defense during a nuclear war. If you have earthmoving equipment, dig long trenches and place the bodies in there lengthwise. (head-to-toe)

Note that even this planning assumes a larger percentage of survivors.

From the excellent blog Restricted Data:

Mortuary and burial areas selected should have space to accommodate about 25 percent more than the maximum expected number of bodies. … A method of rapid, mechanical grave digging and filling will be needed for the large number of graves required. … If conditions permit, mechanically dug continuous trenches offer the best solution to the burial problem. If the machines available are capable only of digging narrow trenches, bodies can be placed head to foot instead of side by side.

Body flowchart

And the original source (PDF scan of an original document)

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  • $\begingroup$ Teh US did only plan for a couple percent dying, not a couple percent surviving such an attack. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Apr 29 at 21:45
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, this is for a (far) smaller scale, but it's one of the largest scale plans that were ever drawn up. $\endgroup$
    – AI0867
    May 1 at 17:10
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Mobile crematoriums.

enter image description here

You just stick some in trucks and you can drive them around from town to town. Cities would make their own crematoriums of course, but the trucks could service overwhelmed cities, towns, and villages. Give a small bounty of food or supplies for anyone who delivers a corpse and you can quickly get all the corpses.

Do some wartime propaganda about the corpses being tainted to get rid of them faster.

Express worry that the killswitches may include a nanite plague, and people need to get rid of them as fast as possible. That way people will feel better about disposing of the bodies.

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  • $\begingroup$ If the ratios were reversed this would probably work. $\endgroup$ Apr 29 at 21:03
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2 million survivors?? No, most of these are just not dead yet. Let's look at what happens after the event:

98% of one-person-control vehicles are now driverless. Deadman systems will stop the trains, but everything else under manual control crashes, taking with it any surviving passengers. Level 3 vehicles might possibly stop themselves but can still be taken out by others. Level 4/5 will stop themselves but still have the risk of being taken out. Vehicles are the most common way we put our lives in other's hands, but it happens in other situations, also.

Note that the vehicle crashes will start some fires--and nobody will be fighting those fires. Likewise, you'll have a lot of other fires where controlled fire became uncontrolled fire. (For example, 98% of lit torches fall to the ground, some will find something flammable.) Those supplies you were going to salvage will mostly burn up.

Note, also, that the roads are blocked with wrecks, even if you have a car you can't drive away. A motorcycle might be able to if the terrain isn't too rough--but can you reach the border with the fuel you have? It's unlikely you'll be able to salvage any after the fires.

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Meat factories

Meat factories nowadays are highly automated complexes where pigs, cows and other human-sized mammals are killed and turn into easy-to-transport pieces of meat.

A cow meat factory can process 4000 cows a day.
A pig meat factory can process 1000 pigs an hour.

The US has about ~850 slaughter houses. We can safely assume your +100 million-people country has about a third of that -- let's say 300 factories.

Assuming a uniform rate of 1000 human corpses per hour, 300 meat factories functioning 24/7 could turn 100 million dead humans into grinded meat in a bit less than 2 weeks.

This meat can then be easily fed to animals (or other humans!), tossed into the ocean, used as fertilizer, buried, burned or whatever.

Whether 2 weeks is quickly enough is up to you.

(The rebel government promised to "dispose of the dead bodies as quickly as possible". They didn't say anything about burials, families or whatever.)

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    $\begingroup$ How many humans would you need to staff at those effectiveness levels? $\endgroup$ Apr 29 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ @coppereyecat About 1000 people per slaughterhouse should be more than enough to keep it grinding non-stop. That's about 300,000 people dedicated to dispose of corpses; the remaining 1,700,000 can help in other ways. $\endgroup$
    – walen
    May 3 at 7:32
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Why not annexing an island far enough from the coastline, dumping all the corpses there and waiting for them to decay naturally under the crushing sun?

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  • $\begingroup$ Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center. $\endgroup$
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    Apr 29 at 0:50

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