Sri Lankan minister asks people not to queue for fuel for two days | News

Colombia, Sri Lanka – Mr Jiffry, 35, a resident of Borella in the main city of Colombo in Sri Lanka, has been queuing his motorbike at a gas station with hundreds of others for more than a day now.

Jiffry, a father of two and Uber Eats driver, depends solely on his daily income.

For Sri Lankans like Jiffry, waiting in queues for essentials has become the new norm amid the island nation’s worst economic crisis since its independence from British rule in 1948.

“I stayed for hours pumping gas, for months. But now it’s much worse. It’s been over a day and there’s still no sign of a gas supply. I am tired and hungry,” he told Al Jazeera.

Jiffry says he hasn’t had a good meal – like many other drivers in the same queue – for almost 25 hours. He said he didn’t want to risk stepping out of the queue to grab something to quench his hunger.

“Someone else will take my place and then I’ll have to start all over again,” he said.

Sri Lanka does not have enough foreign currency to buy basic necessities such as fuel, cooking gas, food and even medicine.

Earlier on Wednesday, the island’s electricity and energy minister urged people not to queue as there were insufficient stocks of petrol. He added that providing fuel has become a “difficult task”.

“Don’t stay [in queues]. Even if you stay, we have no way of providing fuel for the next two days. Therefore, we respectfully and kindly request that you do not stand in the queues for these two days,” Kanchana Wijesekera told parliament.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also addressed parliament on Wednesday, saying the country did not even have a million dollars in foreign currency to pay for its imports.

According to statistics he shared, Sri Lanka currently needs $530 million to import fuel. The World Bank has provided the country with $160 million and the government is discussing whether the money could be used to pay for much-needed fuel.

In a double whammy for Sri Lankans, Litro, the country’s main LPG supplier, announced on Wednesday that its distribution was affected due to a delay in unloading stocks caused by inclement weather.

Wijesekera also urged the public not to stand in LPG queues.

S Yoga Lechchami, a 30-year-old mother-of-two from Mirihana, told Al Jazeera she was unprepared for the LPG shortage when she left home with her “wade shrimp” cart ( a street food) last night.

After serving the first customers, she ran out of cooking gas. “My husband walked for hours looking for gasoline or even kerosene, but he came back empty-handed,” she said.

The peddler stands behind his food stall
Lechchami said she couldn’t even imagine what ‘further sacrifices’ would look like – as the Sri Lankan prime minister suggested – for her and her family [Aanya Wipulasena/Al Jazeera]

Lechchami said she couldn’t afford to throw away unsold food. Already repaying a loan she obtained to buy the cart, she must pocket more to pay for the raw material.

“Everything is expensive now. Shrimp prices are increasing day by day. How am I going to feed my children and run this business? I don’t know what to do anymore,” she said.

Across the island, angry demonstrations over fuel and petrol shortages have continued, according to local media, with protesters blocking roads in several towns to demand the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Amid deadly protests last week, the president’s older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned as prime minister. But his resignation has not appeased protesters who blame the powerful Rajapaksa clan for the country’s crisis and want them out of politics.

Eran Wickramaratne, a parliamentarian from the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya party, said a prerequisite for economic stability is political stability and “an acceptable and credible government”.

“We still don’t have that. The new government is not yet formed. We cannot form a government largely from Rajapaksas. It won’t really help,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The fundamental issues have not been addressed. We need a major overhaul of the existing government that has been in power for two and a half years. The outcry in Sri Lanka is that the Rajapaksas must go. But what we see is that the Rajapaksas are very much in power,” Wickramaratne said.

On Monday, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe warned that the coming months will be the “most difficult” for Sri Lanka. “We must be prepared to make sacrifices and meet the challenges of this period,” he said.

Lechchami said she couldn’t even imagine what “more sacrifice” would be like for her and her family.

Political analyst Dr Aruna Kulatunga painted a rather reassuring picture. “Our biggest issues will continue to be international sovereign bond (ISB) payments and possibly some of the multilateral balloon payments over the next six months,” he told Al Jazeera.

He said Finance Minister Ali Sabry and prominent opposition lawmaker Dr Harsha de Silva, along with Wickremesinghe, would work to appoint legal and financial negotiating teams for debt restructuring before the end of this week.

Along with debt restructuring, he said, flows from tourism and expatriate income are also showing a limited but gradual uptick.

“With these positive signs, most sectors of the economy will recover in the medium term, but unless and until realistic and practical policy reforms are urgently implemented, the long-term recovery is still uncertain. “, did he declare.

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