[EDITORIALS]Grave days on the horizonBy the end of this year, we will run out of space for graves in both Seoul and Daejeon. By the year 2012, most of the nation’s other cities and provinces will experience a similar problem. Not a single city or province has any plans to allot more space for burial grounds. As it becomes increasingly difficult to hold on to our traditional burial culture, it is time to explore fundamental alternatives.
Korean culture has customarily considered burial the only appropriate form of disposing of the dead. This a very outdated idea. We have too little available land as it is in the country and cannot afford to spare a plot of land the size of Yeoido for the departed every year. Fortunately, public views toward burial have changed over the years, and nowadays a considerable number of people are choosing cremation as an alternative. The rate of cremation, which comprised only 5.7 percent of funerals in 1993, increased sharply to 44 percent last year. More than 60 percent of people now want cremation for themselves or their loved ones after death.
But while there has been a positive change among the public in its preference for cremations, government policy has not kept pace. The central government used a budget of 12.6 billion won ($10.5 million) this year to support local autonomous groups’ construction of cremation facilities and vaults to preserve mortuary urns. The cities and provinces asked for a budget of 50 billion won for next year, but were allocated only 10 billion won. Seoul and Ulsan will reportedly run out of vaults by this year, and Busan and Gwangju will follow next year. What is the government planning to do?
A double-standard among people is also a problem. Many people, while accepting cremation and vaults as a desirable change, still don’t want such facilities near their own homes, and protest heatedly when there are plans to build one in their neighborhood. In Busan and the provinces of South Gyeongsang and South Jeolla, construction of cremation facilities at designated sites was halted by the vigorous protests of local residents.
The government must wholly support local autonomous groups in building crematoriums and provide a firm foundation for cremation culture to stand upon. Affected citizens, meanwhile, should not see crematoriums and vaults as repugnant, but as facilities necessary to cater to the inescapable fate of all human beings.