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Singapore recycling graves as space-saving measure

Last Updated Wed, 13 Apr 2005 17:45:45 EDT

CBC News

SINGAPORE - Singapore is opening tens of thousands of graves in a program to recycle graveyard space.

The remains of 18,000 people are being exhumed in the first, year-long stage of the city-state's program. Another 18,000 will be exhumed in phase two, which starts in June 2006.

Choa Chu Kang cemetery, Singapore Wednesday. (AP photo)

Most of the bones will be cremated and placed in a vault.

Opened in 1947, Chao Chu Kang cemetery, which holds 200,000 graves, is the only cemetery open for burial in Singapore. But in 1998, the government decided the burial period for all people in the cemetery would be limited to 15 years. Similar programs exist in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

With a population of more than four million and its small size (roughly 700 square kilometres), Singapore could run out of burial plots if space isn't recycled.

Government newspaper advertisements announce exhumation programs so people can identify late relatives. Any remains that are not identified are kept for three years, then scattered at sea.

Government officials say they haven't run into any objections.

"So far, we've not met anybody who insisted that they can't allow their ancestors to be exhumed. Some people do it on their own, they engage their own contractor. They can choose the date and time," Wong Chiu Ying, director of the exhumation program, said on Wednesday.

There are no plans to disturb the remains of people buried in the territory's 50 to 60 other closed cemeteries.

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I've heard about this happening in Hong Kong. I think it was something like a 10 year "lease" on the burial plot. Creepy. Why not get cremated in the first place?

A friend of mine is a funeral director in Japan and says the number of people having "North American" style funerals is really increasing (embalming wasn't traditionally used, he said). I find this weird considering there is very little space. Anyone else know more about these customs?

I'm with SSJ...opting for the cannon!

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