The three major cemeteries in central Accra - Awudome, La and Osu - are full, according to Simpson Anim Boateng, the metro health director of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA).
Boateng said that on average 320 bodies are buried each month in the three graveyards: 160 at Awudome, 120 at Osu, and 40 at La. He said that currently the cemeteries have no plots for fresh burials and as a result the dead are being buried in spaces between the graves.
Boateng said that it was virtually impossible to acquire land for a new graveyard site in Accra and that efforts by the assembly to relocate the Osu cemetery had come to nothing. He said the assembly was also considering re-opening formerly closed sections of the city’s cemeteries in a bid to deal with the lack of space.
The situation, which has grown steadily worse in recent years, was compounded in 2009 when property developers began building illegally over the Mile 11 graveyard at New Bortianor, a sprawling suburb west of Accra. Practically all the original 80-hectare site has been built over by developers. The cemetery had been used by AMA since the 1960s, and includes a number of mass burial sites for people who died from highly infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, anthrax and tetanus – constituting a serious health risk for residents of the new buildings, according to authorities.
Fees paid for graves in the three main cemeteries vary depending on location and type of grave. Osu is the most expensive – an ordinary grave costs GH¢500 (about €300) while a vault costs GH¢700. At La a grave costs GH¢73 and GH¢200 for vault, while Awudome charges GH¢73 for graves and GH¢500 for vaults.
The other option is cremation at Accra's only crematorium, at Osu, which deals mainly with foreigners. The service costs GH¢1,000 with a further GH¢300 for the export of the body. Underlining the problems of space Boateng said it is important “to begin to move away from traditional burial to cremation.”
Ghana is famous for its “fantasy coffins” which were featured in the National Geographic magazine a number of years ago. The Ga carpenters construct highly-imaginative and colourful coffins to resemble anything from cars and mobile phones to shoes, guns, tools, fruit and fish.