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Sri Lankans return to cooking with firewood as economy burns

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.

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Sri Lankans return to cooking with firewood as economy burns
GNN Media: Representational Photo

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 increase 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."

Pain into 2023

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.

And the pain will likely continue for some time, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in parliament on Tuesday saying: "We will have to face difficulties in 2023 as well.

"This is the truth. This is the reality."

Unofficial inflation is now second only to Zimbabwe, and the United Nations estimates about 80 percent of people skip meals because they cannot afford food.

Before the crisis, almost all households in Colombo could afford to use gas, but now woodcutter Selliah Raja, 60, is doing a roaring trade.

"Earlier we had just one customer -- a restaurant that had a wood-fired oven -- but we now have so many, we can't meet the demand," Raja told AFP.

He says his timber suppliers in the provinces have doubled their prices because of the sharp rise in demand and skyrocketing transport costs.

"Earlier, land owners paid us to uproot rubber trees that are no longer productive," lumberjack Sampath Thushara told AFP in the tea-and-rubber-growing southern village of Nehinna.

"Today, we have to pay to get these trees."

Foraging for wood can also be dangerous in the snake- and insect-infested forests. Last week, a father of three died from wasp stings in central Sri Lanka and four others were hospitalised.

Demand is also surging for alternative energy, and entrepreneur Riyad Ismail, 51, has seen sales light up for the hi-tech firewood stove he invented in 2008.

He has attached a small battery-powered electric fan to blow air into the barrel-shaped stove to ensure better burning, thus reducing smoke and soot associated with traditional firewood burners.

His upmarket "Ezstove" and the mass-market "Janalipa", which uses coconut charcoal, promises a minimum 60 percent savings compared with cooking with gas.

Both his stoves -- which cost around $20 and $50, respectively -- have become big sellers with buyers having to go on a waiting list.

It has been so successful, Ismail says, there are several copies on the market.

"You will see many renditions of my design... other people are piggybacking (on the design)," Ismail said while making chicken satay.

SOURCE: AFP

Pakistan

Preparations in full swing to celebrate diamond jubilee of Pakistan's independence 

Buildings are being decorated with national flags, buntings and lights.

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Preparations in full swing to celebrate diamond jubilee of Pakistan's independence 

Islamabad: Preparations are in full-swing across the country, including Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir to celebrate Diamond Jubilee of Pakistan's Independence on 14 August.

Buildings are being decorated with national flags, buntings and lights. People have started displaying national flags on their vehicles and rooftop of their houses.  

Besides, stalls of National Flag, buntings, caps and children clothes doused in green and white colours have been setup along busy roadsides and at shops in every nook and corner of the country.  

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World

South Korea flooding death toll rises to 11

President Yoon Suk-yeol says it was the heaviest rainfall since Seoul weather records began 115 years ago

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South Korea flooding death toll rises to 11

Seoul: The death toll from South Korea’s record-breaking rains and flooding has risen to 11, officials said Thursday, with eight more people still missing as Seoul struggles to clean up after the deluge.

Two days of torrential rain flooded streets and subway stations in the capital, with President Yoon Suk-yeol saying it was the heaviest rainfall since Seoul weather records began 115 years ago.

Images shared on social media earlier this week showed people wading through waist-deep water and overflowing metro stations, with the posh Gangnam district particularly hard hit.

Of the 11 dead, six were in Seoul, three in Gyeonggi province and two in Gangwon province, according to data from the interior ministry. Three of the eight missing were from the capital.

More than 5,300 people were forced to evacuate their homes, the ministry added.

Among the 11 victims, three died while trapped in their flooded semi-basement apartment, known as a banjiha, according to the ministry. Local reports say the victims were a teenager, her mother and her aunt.

One victim is believed to have been electrocuted while removing a tree that had fallen onto a sidewalk while another died when a landslide buried his home in mountainous Gangwon.

At an official meeting on relief efforts, South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said the government had already completed the bulk of emergency repair work.

SOURCE: AFP

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Pakistan

PM emphasizes sustained high-level Pak-EU exchanges for stronger partnership

"Pakistan attached high importance to its relations with the EU as well as its historically close and cooperative bilateral ties with EU member states"

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PM emphasizes sustained high-level Pak-EU exchanges for stronger partnership

Islamabad: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday said the sustained high-level exchanges between Pakistan and the European Union was vital to further strengthen the growing partnership.

The prime minister, in a meeting with the newly appointed Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan Dr. Riina Kionka who called on him here, said that Pakistan attached high importance to its relations with the EU as well as its historically close and cooperative bilateral ties with EU member states.

Recalling his recent telephone conversations with the EU Council President Charles Michel and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, the prime minister expressed confidence that the upcoming visits to Pakistan by the EU Parliamentary delegations as well as the next rounds of political and security dialogues under EU-Pakistan Strategic Engagement Plan would pave the way for more substantive cooperation between the two sides.

He credited the current GSP Plus scheme with enhancing the mutually beneficial trading ties between Pakistan and EU and hoped that Pakistan would continue to be part of the arrangement beyond 2023.

Noting the 60th anniversary of Pakistan-EU relations this year, the prime minister stressed that this milestone should be commemorated by both sides in a fitting manner. 

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif stressed the importance of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. He also highlighted the unprecedented level of cooperation that Pakistan had extended to the international community in regard to Afghanistan, especially since the developments of August last year.

Dr. Riina Kionka thanked the prime minister for receiving her and expressed her resolve to work for further deepening of EU-Pakistan relations during her tenure in Islamabad.

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