Sri Lanka: 200 dead in fuel shortage riots

Sri Lanka is in a state of emergency due to fuel shortages as a result of the global energy crisis due to Western sanctions on Russia. The ban on the sale of fuel to private individuals has led to riots that have killed 200 people so far.

Sri Lanka’s energy minister said the country’s fuel supplies would run out in a few days, forcing the closure of schools across the country as extended power outages continue amid the worst economic crisis in the country’s history.

Kanchana Wijesekera stated that fuel reserves not enough even for a day with the current demandwhile gasoline and diesel have been limited to essential services such as health care and public transport to keep the remaining supplies for a few more days and ensure the country does not fall completely into the abyss.

The sale of fuel for private cars is prohibited, at least for the next week, but yesterday all over the country there were kilometer-long queues of cars at gas stations.

The fuel crisis affects almost every aspect of life in Sri Lanka, leaving people unable to go to work and school. On Sunday, school closures in Colombo and other major cities were extended by another week as teachers and students were unable to travel to classes. In order to save fuel, power cuts were introduced for up to 14 hours.

Diesel is expected to arrive over the weekend from overseas and another shipment of gasoline is expected in two weeks, but Wijesekera acknowledged that Sri Lanka does not have the money to pay for the shipments. The required amount will be about $587 million, while the country’s reserves are only $125 million.

The government already owes about $800 million to several fuel suppliers as foreign exchange reserves are depleted and it is prohibited from borrowing money on international markets. It is negotiating with Russia to try to get cheap fuel.

Sri Lanka has been facing fuel shortages for months now as it struggles with an economic crisis that has left the country unable to import essentials such as food and medicine. In June, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament: “Our economy has completely collapsed.” And the UN said the country was facing a severe humanitarian crisis.

Inflation has reached 54%, leaving many households unable to buy basic necessities, especially since the prices of most food products have more than doubled.

The economic problems stem from years of trade deficits and a culture of heavy external borrowing that has left Sri Lanka with a $51 billion debt it cannot afford to repay.

Since 2019, due to misguided decisions by the government of President Gotabai Rajapaksa, government revenues have fallen by more than 1 trillion rupees, and the island of 22 million people has been hit hard financially due to the impact of Covid on tourism. The problems have been exacerbated by the energy crisis and Western sanctions against Russia.

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