GASABO - The Mayor of Gasabo District, Willy Ndizeye has announced that the main city cemetery, commonly known as Iwabo wa twese is full and will be closed down this week.
He added that Gasabo District has secured land in Rusororo for a new cemetery
“We were supposed to have closed it last week but we needed to get permission from the Ministry of Local Government which we believe we will get this week and immediately proceed with the closure,” Ndizeye said.
According to the Coordinator of Infrastructure and Land Bureau in Gasabo, John Karamage, the Remera cemetery was opened before 1994 without any clear plan for it.
Proper management for the cemetery was put in place in 2003.
“On average, two people are buried at that cemetery everyday and the latest figures indicate that 9,525 people have been buried at the Remera cemetery since then,” Karamage added.
The cemetery covers an area of about seven hectares.
“The new site is 12 hectares but we intend to extend it further,” he said.
Although the cemetery is closing, no environmental assessment has been done, despite research indicating that graves could be a silent environmental disaster.
According to a World Health Organisation report compiled by Ahmet S. Üçisik and Philip Rushbrook, in cemeteries, human corpses may cause groundwater pollution not because of any specific toxicity they possess, but by increasing the concentration of naturally occurring organic and inorganic substances to a level sufficient - to render ground waters unusable.
“Viruses are fixed to soil particles more easily than bacteria and they are not carried into ground waters in large numbers,” reads part of the report.
The Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), Rose Mukankomeje, however, declined to give details on the environmental impact of the cemetery.
“I won’t give more details apart from telling you that we haven’t developed a law on burying standards,” Mukankomeje said.
The WHO report provides solutions to prevent graves from being harmful to the environment, including planting, around cemeteries, trees and plants with extensive root systems which reduce microbial populations.
“These trees absorb water and seepage to isolate some infective microorganisms from the soil. This also helps to reduce the quantity of the seepage water that mixes with the groundwater.
“The pollution potential from cemeteries is present, but in a well managed cemetery with suitable soil conditions and drainage arrangements, the risk is probably slight,” reads the report.
The other alternative to a grave is cremation-which is common with the Jewish and Asian cultures.
According to the Secretary of the Hindu Community in Rwanda, Agaram Natarajan, cremation has, so far, proven to be environmentally friendly.
“The most environmentally sound method of cremation is on an open air pyre using wood, which is carbon neutral… Traditionally, about 100 kilograms of wood and 10 kilograms of butter ghee are used when a dead body is confined to fire.” said Natarajan.
He added that normal wood-fire temperature does not go beyond 300 degrees C or 600 F, but when the butter ghee is added the temperature obtained is up to 700 C or 1400 F, which has been proven scientifically to be the optimum temperature required for cremation of a human body.
“It generally takes about two hours for a body to be completely reduced to ashes. The ashes are then collected, packed and sent to the relatives and dear ones to be immersed in the sea,” Natarajan said.
During cremation, cow dung, which is a strong anti-pollution burning agent, is also added. By adding ghee and cow dung to the fire, the temperature of the flames is increased, resulting in total destruction of germs and worms.
Experiments have established that there is less risk of environmental pollution and emission of foul smells because of the disinfecting properties of the additives.
Capitholine Musabyeyezu, the President Twifatanye Funerarium Cooperative that manages the Remera cemetery, said that although the cemetery is closing down, it would still be open for visiting.
She added after 20 years, a decision may be taken by the district on whether to demolish it and develop the land, retain it in its current state or bury more people.