Rome fails to bury its dead

Cemeteries are collapsed and the Public Prosecutor's Office has opened an investigation

2 min
A couple cleaning a grave in a cemetery in Rome.

MilàThe increase in deaths in the last year due to covid has filled morgues to the brim and collapsed Rome's cemeteries. Structural deficiencies, eternal bureaucracy and the absence of reforms that had been scheduled prior to the pandemic have forced hundreds of families to have to wait up to two months to cremate and bury their dead in the Italian capital. The Prosecutor's Office has opened an investigation for a possible crime for omission of responsibilities and another for removal of corpses.

"Today it has been two months since my son Dario was with his mother, with his two brothers, with me. We haven't been able to bury him for two months." Andrea Romano is an MP for the Democratic Party and his lament put the emergency situation in which the Roman cemeteries find themselves in the limelight. "Burial times unworthy of a civil city," said the MP, who accused the mayor of the city directly: "Your shame will never be big enough". The mayor, Virginia Raggi, an exponent of the Five Star Movement, was quick to apologise to the Romano family, but their case is far from unique.

Coffins piling up

For several months now, hundreds of coffins have been piling up in the Italian capital's mortuary chambers waiting to be cremated or buried. This is the case of the mother of Oberdan Zuccaroli, who died at the age of 85 at the beginning of March and is still waiting to be buried in the cemetery morgue. To denounce the situation, her son, who works for the company that manages Rome's billboards, papered the city with posters that read: "Forgive me, mum, if I fail to bury you". The municipal company in charge of managing the Roman cemeteries, AMA, acknowledges that there are currently around 800 more coffins than before the pandemic, although some estimates put the figure at around 2,000 between the city's three cemeteries.

The company justifies the delays because an additional 10 days have been added to the 15 days needed for cremation due to increased mortality. "The pandemic is causing a real disaster," AMA president Stefano Zaghis told local media. "Until September the situation was normal, despite the higher number of deaths. But then there was a record increase in deaths with 40% more in October, 60% more in November and 45% more in December," he said.

However, funeral associations acknowledge that burials are also suffering delays, so in recent months some relatives of the deceased have opted to try to bury their loved ones outside Rome. "There are no burial niches and the existing ones are often in shameful conditions," says Alessandro Moresco, a representative of the Feniof association.

Since October, 5,000 more people have died in Rome than in the same period last year. This marks a considerable increase in deaths which is added to an increase in cremations compared to other funeral rites and a lack of sufficient crematoriums to meet demand. In fact, in the capital there are only six crematoria with capacity to perform 250 cremations per day. In 2017 the responsible council presented a project to build four more with the aim of being able to reach 500 cremations a day, but the proposal was not approved.

The questionable management of municipal cemeteries by the concessionary company and the inability of the City Council to resolve the situation comes hand in hand with the shadow of corruption. In fact, the AMA's accounts are being investigated by the justice system after the mayor denounced alleged irregularities.