If nobody wanted to work as an undertaker before, the profession has now become an opportunity for the unemployed in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The city is hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic in the country and the need to dig new graves for the dead by covid-19 daily is urgent.
“I’m digging all day,” says José Luis Poma, a young man who found a job at the Santa Cento de Jesús cemetery.
Before, the cemetery popularly known as La Cuchilla, only had drawers, but with the increase in deaths by covid-19, they keep opening new graves on the ground.
“Our body was no longer capable of digging,” recalls the young man about exhausting days, for which he receives between $ 70 and $ 100 per grave.
Work even with contagion risks
Cemetery officials don’t work for fear of spreading the virus, so now new workers take care of everything – from taking the coffin out of the hearse to placing the flowers in the grave.
“There is a risk,” he confesses about the possibility of contracting the disease, but the quarantine decreed in Bolivia more than three months ago left many unemployed and the gravedigger’s profession is now his only means of subsistence.
Newly hired employees wear biosafety suits, which disinfect every day, gloves, alcohol gel and several masks a day to prevent possible infections. The tombs for burying the dead by covid-19 must be at least three meters deep and lime must be thrown into the graves.
Full cemetery and families pilgrimage
The routine at the cemetery is intense. While relatives of the deceased say goodbye with prayers, they continue to dig, as time does not stop and burials cannot wait.
“It is already full,” she points out over an area of the cemetery full of graves, and some families still need to find space to bury their loved ones.
The city of Santa Cruz, with just over one and a half million inhabitants, went through scenes of families wandering in cemeteries until they found a place for their dead, due to saturation in the cemeteries or because they were rejected for fear of contagion.
The region, which concentrates just over 3 million inhabitants of Bolivia’s 11 million inhabitants, accumulates more than half of the infections in the country, with 21,752 of the 39,297 confirmed positives and the highest number of deaths by coronavirus, with 573 of a total of 1,434, according to official data.