Sri Lanka merely has enough petrol to span a single day, and the country’s new prime minister has cautioned that power shortages could last up to 15 hours every day, as it confront its biggest economic crisis ever since independence in 1948.
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Ranil Wickremesinghe, during his first address to the nation since his contentious appointment last week, expressed “grave concern” over a scarcity of 14 medicines, citing a shortfall of heart disease medications and the anti-rabies vaccine, the latter of which has no substitute treatment.
“Payments have not been made for four months to suppliers of medicine, medical equipment, and food for patients,” said Mr Wickremesinghe.
He forewarned that the coming months “will be the most difficult ones of our lives. We must prepare ourselves to make some sacrifices and face the challenges of this period.”
It occurs as Kanchana Wijesekera, the country’s power minister, warned citizens not to join the lengthy fuel lines that have sparked weeks of anti-government rallies.
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Sri Lanka needs $75 million (£61 million) in foreign exchange over the next few days, according to Mr Wickremesinghe.
Although the government has a “very low amount” of dollars, the Prime Minister stated that he “obtained money to avert this crisis.”
He stated: “A quarter of electricity is generated through oil. Therefore, there is a possibility that the daily power outages will increase to 15 hours a day.”
And he also added: “We must also immediately obtain $20m to provide gas to consumers. The situation of kerosene and furnace oil is even more urgent.”
Mr Wickremesinghe, who was sworn in as Prime Minister for the sixth time last week in an attempt to restore stability to the country, said the diesel shortage “will be resolved to some extent” thanks to a diesel consignment that came on Sunday.
Fuel shipments on the way
He noted that two shipments of petrol and two shipments of diesel utilizing an Indian credit line could bring greater relief in the coming days, but the nation is also suffering a deficit of 14 vital medicines.
He has also recommended that Sri Lankan airlines be privatized.
Long lines of auto rickshaws, the city’s most popular means of transportation, formed at petrol stations in Colombo as residents waited in vain for fuel.
“I have been in the queue for more than six hours,” said driver Mohammad Ali. “We spend almost six to seven hours in the line just to get petrol.”
‘Is there any point in us waiting here?’
Another driver, Mohammad Naushad, said that the petrol station where he was waiting was out of fuel.
“We’ve been here since 7-8am in the morning and it is still not clear if they will have fuel or not,” he said. “When will it come, no one knows. Is there any point in us waiting here, we also don’t know.”
Few individuals on Colombo’s seafront seemed to realize the new prime minister had addressed the country.
They were not surprised, however, to receive additional unfortunate news.
Renuka Sirimanne was out walking her children when she told the media that life is becoming increasingly challenging. She expressed concern for her children’s future since they “can’t get a good education here.”
Another individual with whom the media talked concurred. He has already sent his son to Australia to study, accusing the Rajapaksas of “looting” the nation.
Mohammad Sheikh Ali, too, condemned the administration and demanded a new political structure.
Concerning the plan to privatize Sri Lankan Airlines, Sheikh Ali stated that it is terrible that the country is losing another resource and that there would be no true growth in Sri Lanka as long as the government is printing cash to cover salaries.
He also claimed that the government had squandered millions of dollars on pointless construction projects in recent years.
Manusha Jayathilaka, a creative entrepreneur headquartered in the city, feels Sri Lanka is in “survival” mode and that the political leadership must get the country “running” again.
In his speech, the prime minister stated unequivocally that Sri Lankans are in for difficult times ahead. He described the scene as “terrifying.” People in this town are ready for the worst.
The Indian Ocean island nation is on the verge of bankruptcy as it confronts its biggest economic crisis ever since independence in 1948.
The COVID pandemic, increasing oil costs, and populist tax cuts by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his elder brother, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, have all had a significant impact.
A persistent currency shortage has resulted in runaway inflation and severe scarcity of medicine, fuel, and other necessities, prompting thousands of people to go to the streets in protest.
The nation has halted repayments on $7 billion (£5.7 billion) in foreign loans owed this year.
The IMF has stated that any short or long-term support is contingent on the conclusion of loan restructuring talks with creditors. It must repay approximately $25 billion in foreign loans by 2026, out of a net foreign debt of $51 billion.
Protests have erupted across the island nation of 22 million people since the end of March, pitting pro-government supporters against those demanding an urgent change in power.
Last week, one MP was killed in a confrontation with demonstrators, and other MPs’ residences were set ablaze across the nation.