By Jowsi Abdul Jabbar –
The Muslim community in Sri Lanka is dismayed by the enforced cremation of dead bodies by the authorities. It has now become a tug a war among the professionals. This article aims at shedding light into scientific background of the issue. The reason for the denial of burial rights is ground water contamination as explained by the health authorities.
However various local and international experts claim that the coronavirus does not accumulate within dead bodies and the virus is not found to be water borne. The term groundwater contamination was specified in the guidelines published by the ministry of health and repealed suddenly. It was stipulated to cover in the body bag and coffin, and buried at six feet depth (deep burial) then it was specified as (exact sentence is quoted) “it should not contaminate with the groundwater”.
Here confusion arises to which phenomenon the phrase refers to. It was later perceived to include the environmental concern of the burial from the academic discourses of various people who advocate for cremation. Therefore the tricky piece of the “groundwater contamination” due to burial of dead bodies is such that it has two aspects, namely change of environmental conditions and viral spread via water and both are weighed out of proportionally.
When religious clergy or ignorant politician tend to emphasize for respecting religious values and merely quoting WHO provisions in hope for a solution without establishing sound argument in light of scientific facts; the issue takes political turn. There is a popular outcry from the majority Sinhala Buddhists for following science than religion and equal treatment irrespective of creed or race. It is very crucial to note that in Islamic jurisprudence something that is unhealthy or unsafe is not obligatory to be undertaken.
Let us have closer look into the both aspects
1. Decay of body and pollution from organic compounds
Burial of dead bodies is an ancient practice by mankind for centuries. When dead bodies are buried certain change of conditions of environment occurs due to biodegradation of organic matter and seepage of leachate from the bodies to ground water or surface water.
However little attention is paid by the community and the government even for very higher level of pollution from garbage and sewage. If we quantify the BOD. COD. total Nitrogen Phosphorus, and heavy metals ect. (in comparison) one may conclude that the pollution due to dead bodies is very insignificant
Prevailing situation of the country enables people to come up with undergraduate course work type articles and bluster about the pollution providing quantities of leachate ect. However no test results around the burial grounds were provided to support their argument.
Even if there is a significant harm is envisaged that can be mitigated by the application of science (so-called). For example Insulation, leachate collection and treatment are widely practiced engineering applications. It is unfortunate to note that some perceived as experts portray as if there is no mitigation to be done. Hence it is very disturbing to accept this discrimination by the well-informed Sri Lankan Muslim community.
On the other hand cremation may seem to be a better solution for making sure no virus is left however it can cause irreparable air pollution. Scientific evidence proves that crematoriums emit harmful pollutants which are associated with serious health problems for which children are vulnerable. These pollutants include mercury, dioxins, dibenzofurans, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and hydrogen chloride
2. Spread of Virus in the groundwater
Upon death of the patient, virus stop replication of its RNA from the host cells and they begin to die. It remains inactive in side the body and on the surface for a little time. When the body is prepared for disposal most of the virus vanish from the applied sterilization agents. Though for the sake of ensuring maximum safety, it is assumed that some virus remain in the dead body. When the body is buried there is a very little possibility for the pathogen to come out of the body bag and coffin. However it is once again assumed that some virus to enter into groundwater..
The virus SARS-COV-2 that causes COVID-19 disease is an enveloped one, with a fragile outer membrane. Generally, enveloped viruses are less stable in the geo- environment and eventually die off. So it can be concluded that it is impossible for disease Covid 19 to spread via the the ground water due to burial. However there has been very high attention and publicity in the media due to the panic situation in the country. It is not a secret now that certain media spew racial hatred. It was an exaggeration
Further to that the following instances where virus release into the ground water is provided to support the inability for viruses to transmit via groundwater Virus may be released into the water ways and ground water from the people who are contagious while they are in quarantine or unidentified condition This has been never accounted because Covid19 is not yet found to be a water spread. Water from bodies of living animal and leachate from the dead animals is directly discharged to the ground. Viral spread from this too seldom concerned.
Burial of dead bodies causes certain insignificant yet repairable change of environmental condition with impossible water spread of covid-19. Whereas cremation causes significant and irreparable air pollution at the expense of religious harmony.
BOD – Biochemical oxidization Demand
COD – Chemical oxidization Demand
RNA – Ribonucleic acid
*Eng. A. J. A. H. Jowsi, Charted Environmental Engineer