County encourages cremation of bodies amid cemetery crisis

An already full cemetery in Njoro, Nakuru County. [Caroline Chebet/Standard]

The county government might finally have a solution to the crippling shortage of cemeteries to bury its dead.

A provision in the County Finance Act 2018 stipulates that for Sh10,000, relatives can have their loved ones cremated, thus easing pressure on public graveyards.

“Cremation is an alternative burial rite that should be embraced after a number of graveyards were closed and the remaining few having limited space,” said Public Health Chief Officer Samuel King’ori.

Mr King’ori revealed that in the past one year, about 10 residents had asked for cremation services for their loved ones. A few even offered to pay for the service in advance.

The official said a proposal to fund the construction of a crematorium, which was contained in the 2019/2020 budget, was being subjected to a public participation process.

“Anybody willing to have the bodies of their loved ones cremated can be provided with the service at the Hindu faith site, as we work on plans of setting up a public one,” King’ori said.

Land fragmentation

For the past six years, the county government has grappled with the problem of acquiring land to set up a new cemetery. A major challenge it has faced has been the continued fragmentation of rural land which has made it difficult to acquire one large chunk of land in a suitable location.

Other hitches have included steep rise in land prices and resistance by residents neighbouring earmarked land due to cultural beliefs.

In the 2014/2015 financial year, the county allocated Sh84 million to buy 20 acres of land. Another Sh30 million was allocated in the 2015/2016 budget, Sh40 million in 2016/2017 and a similar amount in 2017/2018.

However, the county has had no luck finding land.

In the current financial year, Sh20 million has been allocated to buy land in the outskirts of Nakuru town. Targeted areas include Elburgon, Gilgil and Subukia.

“We are advertising in the sub-counties because the cost of land near town is expensive, coupled with traditional beliefs, among other issues,” said King’ori.

The official said they had intended to buy land in Sobea and Mai Mahiu where an acre was going for Sh500,000, but the plans were dropped after prices shot up to Sh4.5 million for one acre.

“There are several parcels earmarked for relocation of the cemetery, but the prices are beyond our reach. Majority of the people have taken advantage of the Standard Gauge Railway to hike prices,” he said.

Residents wary

The fear of being haunted by spirits has also made residents wary about agreeing to have graveyards established in their localities.

David Kipkosgei, a resident of Mang’u in Rongai, told The Standard that although many people own large parcels of land, they were reluctant to sell because their culture does not permit setting up of cemeteries in residential areas.

“We respect the dead, yes, but many fear they might be haunted by evil spirits if cemeteries are established near their homes.”