Space pressure grows at Port Vila Cemetery

The Port Vila Cemetery says lack of space at the graveyard means workers are having to dig up old graves.

The Port Vila Municipal Council Town Clerk, Peter Sakita, says the issue is now serious because of an increase in Port Vila’s population  and the high number of deaths that can take place in one day.

“There can be two to three deceased people buried here in one day and that is a lot [for the cemetery to manage],” he said.

The Town Clerk says Vanuatu’s cemetery law states that a dead body can be buried for a period of five years in a cemetery – after five years, the council has the right to dig up an old grave and bury another body in it.

A municipal worker who wished to remain anonymous told VBTC, “It is inappropriate for us to dig up old graves. But we have to, because there is not enough space and this is the huge challenge.”

Port Vila residents who VBTC spoke with said the Government should act quickly to ensure the town has a new cemetery because digging up old graves is inappropriate.

Mr Sakita says the council is looking at using the parking area at the cemetery for burials. He says in the future, vehicles will not be able to be parked inside the cemetery at funerals, and will have to park outside.

Mr Sakita says Port Vila Cemetery has identified a 20-hectare land site at Eratap on Efate for a second cemetery but that will take time for the council to develop.

He says this was the only site that met the council’s criteria for a second cemetery even though 11 sites were inspected.

Mr Sakita says the Government has agreed to purchase the land at Eratap.

“We are waiting now for a submission to go to the Council of Ministers for approval,” he said.

The Town Clerk says but there are also other options to relieve the pressure on the Port Vila cemetery. One option is for the bodies of people from other islands to be flown back to their home islands for burial.

Another option is cremation, to burn the bodies. He said the council is planning to work with an overseas company to introduce cremation, but that this would have to get Government approval because it is against Vanuatu custom.

The Vanuatu Christian Council of Churches disagrees with the practice.

The Chairman of the Vanuatu Christian Council, Pastor Alan Nafuki, says the Bible clearly states that “man came from dust and will return to dust”.

Pastor Nafuki says countries overseas are using cremation because they have no space to bury the dead but Vanuatu still has enough land for burials. He believes there is enough land on Efate for a second cemetery for Port Vila.

The Director of the Department of Local Authorities, Leith Veremaito, says if the Council of Ministers approves the submission for a second cemetery at Efate, the Lands Ministry will work to secure the land.

The Eratap land is worth around VT42 million.

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