It costs more to house the dead than the living in HK

It costs more to house the dead than the living in HK

HONG KONG - There's one thing even Hong Kong's more than 40 billionaires will struggle to buy - a final resting place on their home turf.

Land shortages in the late 1970s forced Hong Kong to ban construction of new permanent burial sites, and public cemeteries were ordered to ensure the remains of the deceased be exhumed and cremated after six years to make way for newcomers.

The policy has done little to alleviate the grave shortage in a city where more than 40,000 people die each year.

Some can get lucky if relatives choose to have the remains of a loved one removed from a public burial site to be cremated, opening the prized permanent space to a lottery system, but plots may only come available every few years.

The only other way is if the deceased is a member of a church that has a private graveyard with a plot available, a very rare instance that can cost up to HK$3 million ($386,900).

"In Hong Kong, people cannot buy a final resting place even if they have all the money in the world," said Hoi Pong Kwok, funeral director at Heung Fok Undertaker.

"The government doesn't just have to settle housing needs for the living. It also needs to address those of the dead."

In land-hungry Hong Kong, where more than 7 million people are packed into just 30 per cent of the territory, failure to vacate a plot after six years means bodies will be exhumed by the government, cremated and put in a communal grave.

While the funeral policy has resulted in a surge in the number of people being cremated - 90 per cent of the city's dead were cremated in 2013, up from 38 per cent in 1975 - cremation is by no means the answer for those seeking a resting place.

Hong Kong's tiny apartment
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: Edge Design Institute)

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