City running out of room
for its loved ones

Anissa S. Febrina, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

With the rising birth rate and influx of migrants in recent decades, even the city's cemeteries are fast running out of space.

In a city where the Muslim majority favors full body burial, the dead take up room, just as the living do.

With an annual mortality rate of 100 deaths per 100,000 individuals, which translates to 9,000 deaths a year on average, Jakarta is currently facing a cemetery crisis.

In took less than a decade for the city's mortality rate to increase by 25 percent from 80 deaths per 100,000 individuals in 1997, with increasing crime and accident fatalities cited as the major contributor.

Jakarta's 95 cemeteries occupy more than 500 hectares of land.

According to the Jakarta Burial Service, the occupancy rate of city cemeteries has reached 85 percent.

Grave diggers at Jeruk Purut cemetery in South Jakarta, for example, clear the earth for 300 burials a month on average, a 20 percent increase from 250 burials monthly eight years ago, Sopian, a member of the cemetery staff, said.

Despite the stack burial method introduced in the mid-1990s, only 10 percent of the more than 8,100 graves in the cemetery bear more than one name.

""Stack burial is limited to members of the same family. We can only bury a second body in a grave site if the lease has expired and is not likely to be renewed,"" Sopian said.

Unlike many other cemeteries in the city, Jeruk Purut has room for expansion.

""We can extend the space of the cemetery by two hectares,"" Sopian said.

The 15-hectare Karet Bivak cemetery in Central Jakarta is among those that have reached capacity.

There are more than 48,000 graves in Karet Bivak, leaving no room at all for new ones. However, 18,000 graves that have been abandoned or for which the lease has expired, could be reused in the next two years.

The head of the city burial service, Dadang Kadarusman said the stack-burial method alone would not resolve the space problem and the city needed to cooperate with bordering areas.

This sounds like the Bantar Gebang dump case all over again, when the city argued it did not have sufficient room for the waste it produced, off-loading the problem to Bekasi.

Spatial planning -- and its consistent implementation -- is once again the root cause of the problem.

Disregarding its actual need of 785 hectares of burial space, the city only allocated 745.18 hectares until 2010 in its five-year spatial plan, landscape architect Nirwono Joga said.

Furthermore, cemetery land has often been converted into usable or salable space.

A cemetery in South Jakarta was converted into the South Jakarta municipal office, while another near Karet was cleared to make way for blocks of apartments and a hotel.

So much for resting in peace.

Uniquely, in Jeruk Purut, the expansion of the cemetery left dozens of squatter families homeless. The cemetery was built on wakaf land or land donated to the state by Muslim groups.

Setting aside more wakaf land for the dead could be one solution to the city's burial space problem.

A plot of land in Mampang, South Jakarta, for example, has been used as a family cemetery since the 1980s. But the burial area shrunk by more than 50 percent when a mosque was erected there in 1985, mosque caretaker Fauzi said.

Jakarta has too many mosques already. The city's burial service should maximize the development potential of the wakaf land that is spread across the city.

Meanwhile, on the consumer side, the leaseholder should no longer retain the right to determine how many people may be buried in the same grave.

Like it or not, a grave that measures two-by-two meters should be occupied by the grandfather, grandmother, children and grandchildren of a family. A grave in Karet has five names written on it, suggesting that stack burial is no longer taboo.

For non-Muslims, cremation should be favored, on the condition that it is made affordable for all.

May we all rest in peace.

Jakarta's cemeteries statistics

Municipality No. of cemeteries Land area*

Central Jakarta 4 37.95

North Jakarta 9 61.42

Kepulauan Seribu regency** 6 6.50

West Jakarta 18 152.71

South Jakarta 29 146.84

East Jakarta 32 175.36

Total 95 580.78
* in hectares
** administrative regency

Jakarta's largest cemeteries

* Tegal Alur, West Jakarta (64.2 hectares)
* Karet Bivak, Central Jakarta (16.2 hectares)
* Semper, North Jakarta (57.6 hectares)
* Tanah Kusir, South Jakarta (52.7 hectares)
* Pondok Rangon, East Jakarta (56.6 hectares)

Source: Jakarta Burial Service

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