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Feb 27, 2007

Living and dead fight for space in cemetery

Story PictureIt’s no secret that Belize City is running out of land. But what you may not know is just how fierce the competition has become. News Five’s Janelle Chanona has the story.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
For several years the living and the dead have been locked in a land dispute at the Lord Ridge Cemetery, with the deceased moving in on one side and the desperate on the other. But now as the two come face to face, no one is happy.

Food vendor Robert Henry and his family have lived on Antelope Street Extension for the past two years. The Henrys don’t mind having the graveyard as a backyard, but they don’t want tombs for next door neighbours.

Robert Henry Sr., Area Resident
“I’d ah like fu see that they noh bring the burying ground more closer, because then I mean fu seh they have to expand wah area, a new area fu the death, because if they only wah bury one and two people pan this side might as well they start it one time, wah big area fi the people and continue mek the area look good because you got tourists weh come in yah, it attract the area. But you got burying ground come way yah, it no look good, to me it no look good. Who dead already dead, I quite agree all ah we have to dead, but if we get a place and put deh, myself wah have to go deh. So I think that dah weh I the look out fah.”

Many of the residents of this area are squatters and are already facing challenges. A water pipe was only put in last week and while the posts are up, lights won’t be on for some time. Crime is threatening to take hold here, but Henry says the community is planning to develop a bird watching site nearby to attract tourists and improve economic conditions. He contends that an expanded cemetery will only add to their problems.

Robert Henry Sr.
“The people must come together, so that must stop. But the people noh come together, it look like the people them fraid to talk. That fu they own right because dah fu they own benefit.”

According to the Belize City Council, in 2006, approximately four hundred and thirty people were buried at Lord Ridge. The council says they have already invested forty-five thousand dollars to make more space and plans to spend another eighty thousand for additional sites, but their efforts will only prolong the inevitable.

Laura Esquivel, Councillor, Belize City Council
“This new allotment that we are going to get is going to give us three hundred more spaces and we have right now about fifty, so we are looking at a year’s more of space.”

“After that it’s absolutely finished, it’s complete. So are working along with the sanitation manager and the city engineer to come up with a plan. We have to start doing above ground, we have no other choice and we are also looking into a vaulting system to see if we can pull that in too.”

According to Belize City Councillor Laura Esquivel, expansion plans will be limited to the confines of the cemetery because lands around the site have been sold as private property or taken by squatters.

Laura Esquivel
“A lot of the spaces for the grave sites have been taken by people who have in fact encroached on the cemetery land. They are looking for land, they are looking for a place to live … way back when they saw this an opportunity to build a house somewhere on what seemed to be nobody’s property, but in fact it was part of the City Council. So we are looking at putting in a fence to stop the encroachment and also to put a in a barrier between those who have put in houses and the actually cemetery.”

The council is now considering vaulting, a technique used in 1885 following the Yellow Fever outbreak and something called “above ground burials”.

Laura Esquivel
“Instead of going six feet under you start burying up on top where they usually have the cement casing, so it would give us double the space. That is what I understand.”

“Corozal, I know San Ignacio, a lot of them already do do the above ground burial and so that’s what we are going to be looking at now to keep us going for a few more years.”

Tonight Esquivel says the City Council is planning to launch a public education campaign to offset any confusion.

Laura Esquivel
“We need to face reality; we need to come up with viable solutions at the same time. And so we want to assure the public that we are trying to get the best solution for the public.”

Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

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