Thousands of people queue for gasoline in Sri Lanka in fear of a food shortage.

Queues formed in many neighborhoods of Colombo, a city of around 900,000, as residents attempted to stock up on fuel, which is mostly imported and in extremely limited quantities, making the government so short of foreign currencies.

“Only about 200 cylinders were delivered, when there were about 500 people,” said Mohammad Shazly, a part-time driver who queues for a third day in hopes of getting cooking gas for his family of five. . Hundreds of other people lined up with empty bottles by their side.

“Without gas, without kerosene, we can’t do anything,” Shazly said. “Last option what? Without food, we will die. It will happen one hundred percent.”

Sri Lanka, which is dependent on tourism and where India and China vie for influence, faces a severe shortage of foreign exchange, fuel and medicines, and economic activity is slowing.

Public transport is plentiful and traffic is sparse as most people stay home for lack of gas.

Wickremesinghe, who also warned of a food shortage, has promised to buy enough fertilizer for the next planting season to boost productivity and meet the food demand of its 22 million people.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision last April to ban all chemical fertilizers has drastically reduced yields, and although the government has lifted the ban, no substantial imports have yet been made.

“While there may not be time to get fertilizer for this Yala season (May-August), steps are being taken to ensure adequate supplies for the Maha season (September-March),” the Prime Minister said in a post. on Twitter at the end of Thursday.

“I sincerely urge everyone to accept the gravity of the … situation.”

Japan, which has long-standing economic ties to the island, said it will provide a $ 3 million emergency grant for medicine and food, its foreign ministry said.

When a truck arrived at a kitchen gas distribution center with fresh supplies, soldiers armed with automatic rifles guarded the vehicle as people in line cheered.

State-owned company Litro Gas hopes to start distributing 80,000 bottles a day by Saturday, but is struggling to fill an estimated shortage of 3.5 million bottles on the market, President Vijitha Herath told Reuters.

The government has also launched a tender for the purchase of cooking gas worth $ 120 million under a broader $ 1 billion line of credit from India.

However, prices have soared, both for cooking gas and for groceries and other essential goods.

The price of a 12.5kg cooking gas cylinder has risen to nearly Rs 5,000 ($ 14), from Rs 2,675 in April.

WE CAN EVEN BE THERE

“There is no point in talking about the harshness of life,” said APD Sumanavathi, a 60-year-old woman who sells fruit and vegetables in Colombo’s Pettah market. “I can’t predict how things will be in two months, at this rate, we might not even be here.”

Inflation could reach a staggering 40% in the next couple of months, but much of it is due to supply pressures, and central bank and government actions have already helped contain inflation demand, the bank said.

Inflation hit 29.8% in April, with food prices rising 46.6% year-on-year.

As anger against the government spreads, police fired tear gas and water cannons at hundreds of student protesters in Colombo on Thursday. Protesters demand the ouster of the president and prime minister.

The economic crisis stems from the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic affecting tourism, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the government of President Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda, who resigned last week from the office of prime minister.

Critics accuse Wickremesinghe, appointed in his post as Prime Minister, of being a lackey to the brothers, an accusation he denies.

Nine new members were appointed to the cabinet on Friday, including critical ministers of health, trade and tourism. But no one was appointed to head the finance minister and to lead negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. This portfolio will likely be held by Wickremesinghe.

An IMF spokesperson said it was following developments closely and that a virtual mission to Sri Lanka was due to conclude technical discussions on a possible loan program on May 24.

The Group of Seven Economic Powers supports efforts to relieve Sri Lankan debt, the group’s financial leaders said Thursday in a draft statement from a meeting in Germany following the Sri Lankan sovereign debt default.

The head of the central bank, Fr Nandalal Weerasinghe, said that the advisers to undertake the debt restructuring are almost complete and that he will soon present a proposal to the cabinet.

“We are in pre-emptive default,” he said. “Our position is very clear, as long as there is no debt restructuring, we cannot repay.”

($ 1 = 355.0000 Sri Lankan rupees)

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