COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is struggling to secure fresh supplies of fuel, the energy minister said on Sunday, with the crisis-hit country fast running out of petrol and diesel to keep essential services running.
For months, the island nation of 22 million people has lacked the foreign currency to pay for essential imports, including fuel, food and medicine. Amid the chronic shortages, Sri Lankans have formed long queues outside pumping stations, with some waiting in line for days.
Sri Lanka’s Power and Energy Minister, Kanchana Wijesekera, said that the country is now down to just 15,000 tons of petrol and diesel, while 70 percent of fuel stations have closed due to delays in expected shipments.
“We are struggling to find suppliers. They are reluctant to accept letters of credit from our banks. There are over $700 million in overdue payments, so now suppliers want advance payments,” he told reporters.
“The remaining stock will be finished soon.”
In the past two months, Sri Lanka has received its fuel supply via a $500 million credit line from India that ran out in mid-June. A petrol shipment due last Thursday failed to arrive and officials are unable to confirm the next delivery, Wijesekera said.
The military will begin issuing tokens to people queuing for fuel on Monday.
Meanwhile, the government will send ministers to Russia to discuss fuel imports and has told 1 million public employees to work from home until further notice.
Sri Lanka also increased fuel prices in the early hours of Sunday, with the price hike expected to further push inflation, already running at 40 percent.
The fuel crisis is also affecting medical services in the country, as both patients and healthcare workers struggle to reach hospitals due to the shortages.
“Staff attendance today was remarkably low,” Omar Sheriff, CEO of Colombo’s largest kidney facility, told Arab News. “And outpatients have dropped from 300 to 40.”
Pathmanathan, who drives a three-wheel taxi in Colombo, said that he waited in line for 12 hours from Saturday afternoon, only to be turned back as he almost reached the fuel station.
“I lost my daily wage waiting for fuel in the queue on Saturday,” he told Arab News.
“Today, Sunday, I was informed that the oil price had risen again. I just can’t understand how we can charge so much money in fares to our customers,” Pathmanathan said. “It’s very sad.”