Sri Lankans return to cooking with firewood as economy burns
NEHINNA- As once relatively wealthy Sri Lanka suffers a dire economic crisis with shortages of everything from medicines to gas, people are returning to cooking with firewood. The switch began at the beginning of the year when more than 1,000 kitchens exploded across the country, killing at least seven people and injuring hundreds more. The reason was suppliers looking to cut costs and increasing the proportion of propane, which raised the pressure to dangerous levels. But now, along with much else in the country of 22 million people, gas is either unavailable or too expensive for most. Some tried to shift to kerosene oil cookers, but the government did not have dollars to import it along with petrol and diesel, which are also in short supply. And those who bought electric cookers were in for a rude shock when the government imposed lengthy power blackouts as it ran out of dollars to import fuel for generators. Niluka Hapuarachchi, 41, was miraculously unharmed when her gas range exploded soon after cooking Sunday lunch in August.
“Fortunately, no one was there at the time. There were pieces of glass all over the floor. The glass-top stove had exploded. I will never use gas for cooking. It is not safe. We are now on firewood,” she said, despite moves to address the propane problem.
Roadside eatery owner M.G. Karunawathi, 67, also switched to wood and said it was a choice between closing her business or putting up with smoke and soot.
“We suffer (smoke inhalation) when cooking with firewood, but we have no choice,” Karunawathi told AFP. “It is also difficult to find firewood and it is also becoming very expensive.”
Sri Lanka used to be a middle-income country, with GDP per head comparable to the Philippines and living standards the envy of neighbouring India.
But with economic mismanagement and the crucial tourism industry hammered by Covid-19, the nation has run out of dollars needed to pay for most imports.