As once relatively wealthy Sri Lanka grapples with a dire economic crisis with shortages of everything from medicines to gas, people are turning to cooking with firewood.
The switch began at the beginning of the year when more than 1,000 kitchens across the country exploded, killing at least seven people and injuring hundreds.
This was because suppliers wanted to cut costs and increase the proportion of propane, which raised the pressure to dangerous levels.
But now, with more and more in a country of 22 million people, gas is either unavailable or too expensive for most.
Some tried to move to kerosene oil cookers, but the government did not have dollars to import along with petrol and diesel, which are also in short supply.
And those who bought electric cookers suffered a major setback when the government imposed a prolonged electricity blackout due to running out of dollars to import fuel for generators.
Niluka Hapuarachi, 41, was miraculously untouched when her gas range exploded shortly after cooking a Sunday dinner in August.
“Luckily, no one was there at that time. There were pieces of glass lying all around on the floor. The top of the glass stove had exploded. I would never use gas for cooking. it’s not safe. We are on firewood now,” she said, despite steps being taken to address the propane problem.
MG Karunavati, 67, the owner of a roadside eatery, also turned to wood, saying it was a choice between shutting down his business or the smoke and soot.
“We have trouble (breathing in the fumes) while cooking with firewood, but we have no choice,” Karunavati said. AFP, “Firewood is also difficult to find and it is also becoming very expensive.”
pain in 2023
Sri Lanka used to be a middle-income country, with a GDP per capita comparable to that of the Philippines and living standards the envy of neighboring India.
But with economic mismanagement and the critical tourism industry hit by Covid-19, the country has run out of dollars needed to pay for most imports.
And the pain will continue for some time, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament on Tuesday: “We will face difficulties in 2023 as well.
“It’s true. It’s the truth.”
Informal inflation is now second only to Zimbabwe, and the United Nations estimates that around 80 percent of people give up on food because they can’t afford food.
Before the crisis, almost all homes in Colombo could use gas, but now 60-year-old woodcutter Celia Raja is trading roar.
“Earlier we had just one customer – a restaurant that had a wood oven – but now that we have so many, we can’t meet the demand,” King said. AFP,
He says his lumber suppliers in the provinces have doubled their prices due to a sharp increase in demand and a steep rise in transportation costs.
Lumberjack Sampath Tushara said, “Earlier, land owners paid us to uproot rubber trees which are no longer productive.” AFP In the southern village of Nehinna, which grows tea and rubber.
“Today, we have to pay to get these trees.”
Fodder for wood can also be dangerous in snake- and insect-ridden forests. Last week, a father of three children died and four others were hospitalized after a wasp sting in central Sri Lanka.
Demand for alternative energy is also on the rise, and the 51-year-old entrepreneur Riyad Ismail has seen a boom in sales of the high-tech firewood stove he invented in 2008.
They have installed a small battery-operated electric fan to blow air into the barrel-shaped stove to ensure better burning, reducing the smoke and soot associated with traditional firewood burners.
Their upmarket “Azstov” and mass market “Janalipa”, which use coconut charcoal, promise a minimum of 60 pc of savings compared to cooking with gas.
Both of their stoves — which cost $20 and $50 respectively — have become big sellers and require buyers to go on waiting lists.
It has been so successful, Ismail says, that there are many copies on the market.
When making chicken satay, Ismail said, “You’ll see many renderings of my designs… others are piggybacking[on the design].”