Sri Lankans are spending more hours in long queues than at home; buying fuel, gas and many other essential commodities.

Adding to these problems, it is reported that funeral parlours are running short of coffins. The era of burying the dead wrapped in shrouds might not be far off when we take a closer look at the situation.

Coffin manufacturers lament that there is not enough fuel to operate their machines due to the fuel shortage as filling stations refuse to issue fuel to cans. As a result, manufacturing coffins has become more expensive.

Furthermore, several coffin-makers said they are in a very difficult situation due to the increased cost of timber and other raw materials.

It has been difficult to transport timber owing to the fuel shortages. Transport costs are high because of the fuel prices, they said. 

Costs doubled

Meanwhile, speaking to Ceylon Today, a manager of a funeral parlour in Borella said that the costs of coffins have been increased twofold. 

“There is no shortage in coffins for us at the moment. However, the prices have to increase.  This is mainly due to transport costs for timber and other raw materials. As a result of fuel shortage, it is difficult to arrange lorries. This has affected us badly,” he said.

When queried whether there is a shortage in chemicals used to embalm the bodies, he said that there is no such shortage for now.

“We still have supplies. But who knows what will happen in two, three months?”

Several funeral parlour managers also raised similar concerns.

“Previously, coffins were procured from Kamburugamuwa and Garaduwa areas, but due to the fuel crisis, the production of coffins is limited and now we are buying coffins from Moratuwa for higher prices.”

What happened to the cardboard coffins? 

Sri Lanka made headlines on international media when the whole world was struggling with pandemic, as Dehiwala Municipal Council invented a low-cost cardboard coffin for
Covid-19 victims. It was a concept by Dehiwala Municipal Council Member Priyantha Sahabandu.  The cardboard coffin that could hold a 100kg body was provided for less than Rs. 10,000 including transport cost.  A stock of these coffins was exported to Vietnam as well.

But is it possible for using the same coffins today, not for Covid-19 victims, but for those who cannot afford the increased cost of wooden coffins and funeral services?

Ceylon Today learns that the project was halted when Covid-19 deaths started to decrease. 

“Our original intention of manufacturing cardboard coffins was to give relief to people during the pandemic. Many people faced difficulties when it came to the final rites of their loved ones who died from Covid-19. It was difficult for people to afford coffins for high prices such as Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 40,000 to perform final rites of Covid-19 victims as the bodies were cremated within 24 hours.  This low cost coffin was invented as a solution for this matter,” Harsha Nonis, a Dehiwala Municipal Council member said.

“The cost of manufacturing these coffins was between the Rs 3,500 to Rs 4,500 range. We also arranged transport facilities to deliver the coffins. With that, needy persons were able to get the coffin at less than Rs 10,000,” he said.

However, there are certain rituals performed before the dead are buried. Some communities bury the body within 24 hours. But most others keep the embalmed body in a coffin for few days to show last respects. This particular coffin is designed only to last one day. Therefore, at this moment, cardboard coffins cannot be used for keeping the body few days. It was specifically designed for one day use.

According to Nonis, cardboard coffins need more developing to be able to hold an embalmed body for a few days. “We are getting there. But we need a bit more time,” he said.

On the other hand, the current paper shortage in the country, owing to the worsening forex crisis, has gravely impacted these development activities as well. The severe shortage of cardboard and other paper materials has hiked prices. Therefore, it is difficult find cardboard to make coffins even for one day use and they cannot be sold for the old prices.

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has come to a juncture, where people cannot live peacefully without a struggle. Now the situation has been aggravated to point that one cannot even die peacefully without worrying how their loved ones will find money to perform their last rites.

By Methmalie Dissanayake