As Malta’s cemeteries become fuller the Health Ministry is considering the introduction of cremation as part of a policy to tackle the growing lack of burial space.
“The policy aims at addressing the situation in which the demand for more graves is getting bigger every year, and thus considers various solutions and options available... which range from building other graves and adding grave sites to options such as a crematorium,” a ministry spokesman said.
Currently, cremation is not regulated by law since there are no crematoriums. However, bodies that were cremated abroad have been allowed a normal burial.
The Church does not oppose cremation but recommends that the ashes are buried and not kept in urns or scattered.
At the moment government cemeteries have more than 22,293 graves, 1,776 of which are common.
The bulk of the graves are at Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery where there are 15,538 graves that include 14,329 privately owned and 1,209 common ones.
Until May this year there were 6,748 pending applications to buy graves with 4,029 of the applicants wanting a burial space at the Addolorata. Some applications have been pending for over a decade.
Over the past years the government has been looking at ways to solve the problem of the lack of burial space and come up with various proposals to extend the cemetery.
In 2006 former Health Minister Louis Deguara had announced that some 2,782 graves were to be developed. Three years later his successor, John Dalli, said the previous plans had been scrapped because they did not respect the architectural heritage of the Paola cemetery.
Mr Dalli, who is now an EU commissioner, announced a massive €33 million extension of 9,000 new graves at the Addolorata to be built over three years.
He said a piece of land had been identified for a crematorium but the government was not interested in actually developing or managing it and would leave this up to the private sector. Mr Dalli also said each new grave would be sold for about €8,000 – an increase of over €4,000 over prices still applicable today.
Despite these promises, no new graves have materialised as yet.
A ministry spokesman said the government was working on the policy to address the problem.
“In fact plans have been laid down for the extension of the Addolorata cemetery which will accommodate about 2,900 graves,” he said adding that it was not possible to give a timeframe for the completion of the policy.
Speaking in Parliament last week, Health Minister Joseph Cassar confirmed that the real cost of a new grave was €8,000 and this will be reflected in amendments to the price order regulating the price of graves at the Addolorata.
The minister said the extension of the Addolorata was still in its initial stage, with workers involved in site clearance.