Crematorium workers in Dubai in full PPE
Crematorium workers in Dubai in full PPE Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah/Dubai: Flight suspensions preventing the repatriation of mortal remains and COVID-19 deaths requiring local cremation have burdened crematoriums in the UAE, prompting calls for more facilities to solve the agonising delay in performing last rites faced by grieving families.

Cremation facilities in the UAE have been facing unprecedented delays in performing funeral ceremonies of people of different faiths who burn bodies of the deceased in the past couple of months, social workers and community leaders dealing with cremation procedures told Gulf News.

Crematoriums in Dubai, Sharjah and Al Ain are dealing with a long list of people waiting to cremate the bodies of those who died due to various reasons including COVID-19.

Multi-faith people from countries including India, the Philippines, Nepal, Japan, the UK, Australia and some European countries are cremated at these centres.

The crematorium run by the Indian Association Sharjah in Juwaiza has bookings made till June 25, E.P. Johnson, president of the association said.

Crematorium staff in full PPE
Crematorium staff in full PPE Image Credit: Supplied

Uncertainty and anxiety

S. Krishnan, whose relative Sabu Chellappan died in Sharjah on May 12, said the approval he got for the cremation is for June 7 only.

“I had never met him as he is a distant relative. Since there is no one else who could help, his family got in touch with me to help them. This long delay is causing uncertainty and anxiety for relatives. They can’t do any other rituals related to the last rites until the body is cremated,” he said.

Johnson said recent holidays added to the backlog of bodies waiting for cremation in different mortuaries.

“We could not get approval for operating the incinerator during the holidays. Due to the COVID-19 scenario, we are able to conduct only two cremations per day.”

He explained that cremation protocol requires workers at the facility to wear disposable Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) covering their whole body while handling mortal remains whether the death was due to COVID-19 or not.

“They need to dispose of the PPEs after handling each body. We cannot operate the only incinerator in our facility for more than two cremations a day. Any damage to this machine will be a huge concern.”

Johnson said the association has written to the Sharjah government seeking its assistance in installing the second incinerator that has been procured for the facility.

“We estimate a cost of around Dh500,000 for building the infrastructure and commissioning the second incinerator. The association is not in a position to take up such a huge financial responsibility in the current situation,” he added.

The situation is similar in Dubai also. The New Sonapur Hindu Cremation Ground in Jebel Ali has seen a spike in the number of cremation requests ever since the flight suspensions during the pandemic.

Increased capacity

Even though the facility was open during the Eid holidays and has increased the capacity to six cremations per day, it also has a backlog of bodies waiting to be cremated.

“To cope with the rush in the current scenario, we increased the number of cremations to two per day in each of the three incinerators,” said Vasu Shroff, a member of the committee managing the crematorium.

One of the machines broke down and is now being repaired, he said.

“We are expecting it to be repaired by tomorrow and we are expecting to clear the backlog in two weeks or so.”

Meanwhile, he said efforts are on to install two more incinerators.

“We are negotiating for two more machines. Within one month, we will get at least one. We have also offered to Dubai Municipality to see if they require one more incinerator to be operated here.”

Apart from Hindus from India, he said the facility caters to Christians and Buddhists of various nationalities.

“The committee’s member Girish Pant has been coordinating with the Indian Consulate for repatriating bodies and ashes,” he said.

Alternate arrangements

Consul General of India in Dubai Vipul said the mission is aware of the issue and has been taking measures to help bereaved families.

“We have been able to assist with repatriation of mortal remains of about 40 people,” he said.

K.V. Shamsudheen, another Indian social worker who has been supporting families of COVID-19 victims and others, said he has written to Indian authorities and community members highlighting the need to make alternate arrangements for cremations in view of the pandemic.

“My suggestion is to build a temporary cremation facility using wood and fire in the traditional way for those who die from coronavirus. It can be set up in the desert to avoid pollution. I hope realising the urgency, the government authorities will permit the Indian community to build one such facility urgently.”