The tiny city-state has dug up hundreds of thousands of graves to pave the way for roads, houses and shopping centres. As Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence, conservationists argue heritage need not be sacrificed to progress
Overgrown and littered with dead leaves, Bukit Brown cemetery does not feature in many tourist guides to Singapore. But its 200 hectares are one of the island’s few green spaces, home to a quarter of the bird species – and the final resting place for more than 100,000 people. Yet its days might be numbered. Over 3,700 of those 100,000 graves have now been exhumed, to make way for an eight-lane highway that will cut the cemetery in half.
This gruesome business is nothing new. In Singapore, hundreds of thousands of bodies have already been hauled up from the ground to pave the way for malls, roads and apartment blocks. The entire city-state of Singapore covers a mere 71,830 hectares, less than half the size of Greater London, so land is always at a premium here – and the needs of the dead generally give way to that of the living.