Hong Kong is not a good place to die
Not only does the city lack burial sites, it has also begun to run out of space for cremated ashes.
Some say death is the end of everything. Yet given the poor afterlife services in Hong Kong, this theory is not entirely true.
Since the 1980s, Hong Kongers were forced to abandon burials due to the problem of land shortages. Now, the city has begun to run out of space to store funeral urns containing ashes of the cremated dead.
Official figures show the high demand for niches where funeral urns are stored, far outweigh the supplies. The Census and Statistics Department estimated the number of cremations from 2014 to 2018 will be around 215,875, while less than 100,000 niches will be provided by the government over the next five years.
Currently, most of the 213,300 niches in the eight public columbaria where urns are stored have been allocated. Yet with over 40 thousand deaths per year, some have turned to niches offered by private columbaria. Such expensive services are often not an option for the poor.
“Many of the cases that we are following are grass-root families. They lack budget to afford the great expenses of a funeral and a niche,” said Mr Arnold Leung Tsz Tun, Senior Service Manager of Hospice and Bereavement Services at a local Church.
While public niches are generally priced at $4,000, private ones can cost from of $30,000 to $ 500,000, excluding funeral costs.
Under the existing Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme, the maximum burial grant is $12,560.
“This subsidy is a bit tricky, only if the deceased person is the allowance holder can he enjoy the funeral subsidy. If the family members are the holders but the deceased are not, they fail to meet the criteria,” said Mr Arnold Leung.
Meanwhile, some patients struggle to afford a funeral. They must turn to the last resort which is the “Hospital Out” service, where dead bodies will be directly sent to the crematoria from the hospital mortuary.
“Hospital Out involves no death ritual,” said Mr Ng Yiu-tong, who worked in the local funeral industry for more than four decades. Without any rite, no friends and family members will honour and celebrate the life of a loved one who has died. “No Chinese would wish to die in this way,” said Mr Ng.
Yet due to financial difficulties, he estimated about 40 percent of elderly people pass away using the “Hospital Out” service.
The permanent chairman of the Funeral Business Association said Hong Kong was capable of making end-of-life services much more comprehensive, but no one is doing it.
“There is nothing that matches the demand of the city, which makes both the people that are alive and dead suffer a lot,” said Mr Ng.
“Hong Kong is certainly not a good place to die.”
Reported by Josie Wong
Edited by Andrew Wan