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How is Sri Lanka’s temporary halt on fuel sales affecting people?

In an effort to save fuel stocks that are expected to run out in days, Sri Lanka has suspended petrol sales for non-essential vehicles for the next two weeks.

Attributed to the mismanagement by the ruling Rajapaksa family, the shortage of foreign cash reserves has worsened Sri Lanka’s crisis. Among their disastrous policies were tax cuts that resulted in decreased revenue and a ban on chemical fertilizer in a bid to promote organic farming. 

Industries like tea and garments are left with fuel for only about 10 days, and to add to the misery, current stocks of the country will run out in under a week based on steady demand.

Months of protests have forced several members of the Rajapaksa family to resign, including the prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

But Gotabaya Rajapaksa has still held on to his position as a president of the country. He has introduced a new prime minister in an effort to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund and attract aid. 

During the two weeks suspension on fuel sales, only buses, trains, and vehicles used for medical services and transporting food will be allowed to fill up with fuel, while some would be rationed to ports and airports.

Sri Lankans are worried about the future and see signs of a much rougher ride ahead for the current government to salvage the economy. 

Here is how the fuel shortage is affecting people on a day-to-day basis:

Schools and offices 

The government has shut down schools and urged employees to work from home, a move that would further impact children’s education that is already disrupted for years due to Covid-19, according to non-profit Save the Children.

The non-profit also said it was deeply concerned about the impact school closure will have on Sri Lanka’s 4.2 million children. 

Free school meals are also a lifeline for one million of the country’s most vulnerable children.

Children from 2 out of 5 households are not able to continue their online learning with families unable to afford data, according to an assessment by Save the Children. 

Provincial education officials are scrambling to find a way to continue lessons to students with schools being closed. 

Employees have been asked to work from home until further notice. The announcement was made days after the government reduced working days by declaring Friday a holiday. The country has also urged employees “to engage in home gardening or cultivating short-term crops”, in a dire bid to provide relief. 

Of the country’s approximately one million government employees, those providing essential services such as healthcare will continue to report for duty at their offices, the decree said.

Food shortages

Due to the widespread shortages of fuel for cooking and transport, poor families are struggling to afford food. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office said that about 5 million people in the country could be directly affected by food shortages in the coming months.

In May, food inflation in Colombo set a record high of 57.4 percent.

Vegetables, fruits and protein-rich products are now out of reach for many low-income families. According to WFP’s recent surveys, 86 percent of families are resorting to at least one coping mechanism: eating less, eating less nutritious food and even skipping meals altogether.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has stepped in and began distributing food vouchers to about 2,000 pregnant women in Colombo’s “underserved” areas.

Public means of transport 

Many Sri Lankans heavily rely on public transport. In the current crisis, both private and public transport services have been severely affected.

As a result of the recent temporary halt on petrol sales, private buses, rickshaws and taxis will not be functioning in full capacity, hence affecting modes of transportation in the country.

Lack of fuel has already crippled the public transport services by over 50 percent, the National Transport Commission said.

A 53-year-old auto-rickshaw died of a heart attack on June 16 in Colombo while waiting in a queue for fuel.


The lack of fuel is also affecting the tourism industry in the country, which has been one reliable source of income for the country. It accounts for almost 12 percent of the country’s GDP and is the third-largest source of foreign exchange reserves. 

During the two week suspension on fuel sale, Cabinet spokesperson Bandula Gunawardena told reporters on Monday that airports and tourism services will be able to purchase fuel.

“This is not a lockdown,” tourism minister Harin Fernando told Sri Lankans on Monday. He expressed hope that day-to-day activities will resume back to normal by July 10. 

Sri Lanka consumes about 5,000 tons of diesel and 3,000 tons of petrol a day just to meet its transport requirements. Fuel prices were hiked by 12 percent-22 percent on Sunday, the second increase in many months, which may raise power tariffs by 57 percent, adding to inflation that is already at a record 45.3 percent.

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