In crowded Hong Kong, ‘green’ burials the best solution

With unauthorised facilities now outlawed, the government should encourage alternatives such as scattering ashes in the sea and in memorial gardens

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2017, 11:19pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2017, 11:19pm

Hong Kong is, finally, a step closer to curbing the proliferation of unauthorised burial facilities across the city. Following the passage of the long overdue Private Columbarium Ordinance last month, the real challenge for the government is to ensure that the urns in premises that ultimately do not meet the licensing requirements are displaced properly. Separately, officials should step up efforts in encouraging people to opt for the alternatives, such as sea burial or scattering ashes in designated memorial areas.

We trust the government is fully aware that getting the licensing regime in place is just part of the job.

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Transactions involving private niches will be suspended immediately after the law comes into effect on June 30. A nine-month grace period will follow, after which unqualified premises will be put out of business. With as many as 80 per cent of the 153 private facilities currently not following land lease conditions, the industry has warned that tens of thousands of urns might be displaced eventually. But the acute shortage of burial places elsewhere means they may have no place to go.

The government is therefore under pressure to ensure there will be a smooth transition. This involves exhausting all possible ways to enhance the supply of public burial facilities. Regrettably, efforts on this front still leave a lot to be desired. In recent years, only two public columbariums have been built, seriously short of the original target of building burial facilities in each of the 18 districts.

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Officials are to blame for the lack of political will and determination to reach the target. Equally lamentable is the “not in my backyard” mentality among some local residents. They complain about the shortage of burial places for their loved ones, but object to building a facility in their own neighbourhood.

The option of “green” burials seems more sustainable in the long run. This appears to be a growing trend, with the ashes of some 5,000 people disposed of at sea and in memorial gardens last year. Officials should further promote such arrangements to help ease the pressure of building more columbariums.