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Without gas for cremation, even dying is a struggle in Venezuela

Venezuelans are also unable to afford to leave their relatives' remains in the morgue while waiting for gas supplies. Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters Maracaibo, Zulia, Venezuela Dec 06, 2018, 12.12 PM (IST)

Cemeteries in Venezuela are unable to offer cremations because they lack natural gas, which is in ever shorter supply even though the OPEC nation holds some of the world's largest energy reserves.

"When we were going to cremate in the "Chinita" (a cemetery) they told us we could not because there was no gas; that they had problems with the furnace and they sent us to Eden (another cemetery). It went well there but lights went out when they were going to do the procedure," said Yajaira Matos, who faced issues while trying to cremate her husband.

Venezuelans are also unable to afford to leave their relatives' remains in the morgue while waiting for gas supplies. Each extra day costs more than a month of minimum wage.

Many are resorting to leaving bodies in unmarked common graves at the edge of cemeteries, an area traditionally reserved for unclaimed bodies.

"It's very difficult to cremate, to bury. Everything is difficult, if it is not the gas, the ovens are useless or the bodies have to be unearthed, it is a disaster, this is a disaster. I don't know what is going to happen and how are we going to continue with this?" said Matos.

The decay of Venezuela's oil industry burdened citizens for months with long gasoline queues and shortages of cooking gas, and has now hit families bidding farewell to loved ones.

Venezuelans have shifted toward cremations, which cost about a third of burials, but growing demand has crematories struggling to obtain natural gas.

Members of a dozen families said in interviews they now wait as long as 10 days.

Shortages of wood and metal for coffins and cement for graves have complicated traditional burials. Some families wait for crematories to obtain propane gas. But the wait also boosts costs, with annual inflation nearing 1 million per cent.

Shortages of medicine, food and basic goods have been constant since the 2014 collapse of oil prices battered Venezuela's socialist economy. Around three million people have emigrated since 2015, according to the United Nations.

President Nicolas Maduro blames an "economic war" led by political adversaries with Washington's help. The Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment on cremations.