Kanjirapally, Canada & Saudi Arabia: Unlikely Brothers-in-Alms in Oil Crisis

Joe A. Scaria

As geographic diversity goes, few places in the world can be as dissimilar as Canada’s Alberta province, the hill town of Kanjirapally in Kerala and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

But the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, the granite stone-rich hills of Kanjirapally and the breathtaking sand dunes of Saudi Arabia are all witnessing their local populations being delivered a common, bitter economic pill: the great oil shock.

Kanjirapally, of course, has no oil well; nor have its rocks been explored for shale content. But Kerala’s very own rubber county has vicariously been pulled into the oil crisis since natural rubber prices move in tandem with oil prices. When crude prices fall, synthetic rubber production turns cheaper, prompting producers to use less natural rubber.

Such substitution is normally seasonal, but the tumbling of crude prices to below $30 per barrel and natural rubber to 100 rupees per kilogram from about 240 rupees only two years ago, means the discussion isn’t any more about substitution, but about plain devastation for crude and rubber.


Photo credit: ST33VO via Foter.com / CC BY

In Canada’s oil-rich Alberta province, suicides have spiked, apparently owing to mounting oil sector job losses. CBC News reported that in 2015, the year of mass lay-offs in the energy sector, there were 327 suicides in the province from January to June, a jump from 252 in the same period a year earlier.

Authorities worry that the figure for the full year of 2015 may be over 650, as against the average of roughly 500 suicides a year.

Reflecting the same gloomy mood, Middle East’s big brother Saudi Arabia announced a sharp reduction in its 2016 budget to control a worsening deficit. In 2015 the kingdom ran a deficit of $98 billion, and the situation can get worse as it continues financing rebels in Syria and sustains its intervention in Yemen.

Kanjirapally, the rubber-plantation rich town on the Kottayam-Kumily route, has been known for its discrete opulence, complete with an emphasis on style, a taste for the finer things in life and a love for succulent and spicy Syrian Christian food.

Much of that was built on the edifice of the wealth that oozed out of the rubber trees. That source of income having all but vanished, the mood is grim. Luxury weddings seem muted, shop-owners speak of thinning sales, and even daily-wage laborers – so tough to hire in normal times – have become far less demanding.

The rubber trees, the maple trees and the date palms of the desert seem to sing in unison, 'The times are plain crude'.

(Photo: Mahesh Harilal)