🔴 A civil servant who worked in the office of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa says she has been trying her luck in the fuel queue for three days, without success.
🔴 Another official from former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office says he has “just enough” to get to the market. He used to get fuel from government sheds earlier, but not after Rajapaksa fled.
🔴 A senior Sri Lankan diplomat has been working from home for a week. “I walk to nearby shops for daily needs,” the diplomat said.
🔴 A former diplomat, out of Covid, saved enough fuel to reach the hospital, if needed.
The fuel shortage in Sri Lanka has affected the elite as well as the common people.
On the streets of Colombo, fewer private cars are circulating, winding queues outside petrol stations are commonplace and most residents are driving long distances, saving what little fuel they have for an “emergency”.
Hospitals in the capital are the hardest hit by this shortage. At 7 p.m. on Friday, when The Indian Express arrived at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka, one of the largest public hospitals, doctors and nurses said many of them could not report to work in reason for the shortage.
They said the government had given priority access to medical professionals at petrol stations, but that was too little for too many.
A chief medical officer, who did not wish to be identified, said she had to change buses to get to the hospital, and it was “extremely difficult”. “Many patients called the free ambulance service to get to the hospital,” she said.
Outside there were hardly any private vehicles, only ambulances which arrived every 5-10 minutes and three-wheelers. A man arrived in a van, with his uncle lying on a mattress on the ground in the back. “I use the vehicle for bread and grocery deliveries, but today there was an emergency,” the driver said.
Dr Ananda Wijewickrama, a senior consultant at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Colombo, who was part of Lanka’s Covid task force, said: “The fuel crisis has had a significant impact, preventing doctors and nurses to go to hospitals… The number of patients coming for regular check-ups, elective surgeries and treatments, has also been impacted.
In Colombo, the crisis has also affected schools. Sanka, a 32-year-old housewife with two children, said: “Schools had been closed and open for three months. Now they say schools will open after the president is elected…because of the power cuts, online classes are also difficult.
Due to the shortage, fuel prices have almost quadrupled compared to last year. Despite marginal cuts announced on Sunday, diesel fell from SL Rs 106 last year to 440 per liter while petrol prices fell from SL to Rs 130 to 450 per litre. On the black market, petrol is sold at around SL Rs 2,000 per liter – one Indian rupee is worth around SL Rs 4.50.
This also led to a sharp rise in the prices of household goods.
At Keells, an upscale store in Union Place in Colombo, The Indian Express compared the prices of different items – with the help of customers and the store manager – and found that they had increased almost fivefold over the past year, some items being rationed.
Posters on the shelves limit each customer to one packet of powdered milk, 2 kg of rice and 12 bottles of water. Essentials like powdered milk, one of the best-selling items, are in short supply.
According to the manager and customers, the price list has changed drastically over the past year: potatoes (SL Rs 110/kg last year to SL Rs 520/kg now); onions (SL Rs 65-280), sugar (SL Rs 65-451), flour (SL Rs 160-350), rice (SL Rs 95-110-480) and eggs (SL Rs 13-55/egg).
There are more: Toilet Roll (SL Rs 30-40/roll last year to SL Rs 215/roll now), Surf Excel Detergent Powder (SL Rs 350 to 980), Coca-Cola (SL Rs 110 to 390/litre), Maggi noodles (SL Rs 110 to 360/pack) and Lux soap (SL Rs 80 to 225/piece).
Rohana Hettiarachchi, executive director of an election advocacy group, said her family had reduced their consumption of fruit and fish. “My 17-year-old loves apples and bananas, so we buy just enough fruit for him. If we deprive ourselves of these basic needs, imagine the situation of the most vulnerable,” he said.
In its latest report on the situation in Sri Lanka, released on Friday, the World Food Program said: “Soaring food prices are making things more difficult… Around 6.7 million people are not consuming adequate food. and 5.3 million people reduce the number of meals eaten. To cope with the lack of food, 5 million people use coping strategies in times of crisis or emergency.
Professor Lalithasiri Gunaruwan, professor of public transport planning and economics at the University of Colombo, blamed the fuel crisis on the lack of foreign exchange. “The real cancer is the currency shortageand the fuel crisis is a visible symptom on the surface,” he said, blaming successive governments for the current situation.
Bhavani Fonseka, a lawyer and senior fellow at the Center for Policy Alternatives, said: “While the price hike has affected everyone, it has hit the most vulnerable the most. Ambulances cannot reach certain places due to lack of fuel.
On Saturday, the Sri Lankan government announced that a fuel pass would soon be introduced to allocate “a guaranteed weekly fuel quota” with QR codes for each vehicle. “We made requests (for fuel) to different countries. So any country that comes to help us, we appreciate it. Currently, the Indian government is the only country that has provided us with a line of credit,” Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekara said.
So far, India has given $3.8 billion in economic aid to Sri Lanka, including fuel.