Diesel was no longer available in Sri Lanka, hampering transportation as the country’s 22 million residents endured record-breaking power outages on Thursday. The South Asian country is experiencing its worst economic crisis since independence, owing to a severe scarcity of foreign currency to pay for even basic goods.
According to officials and media reports, diesel, the major fuel for buses and commercial vehicles, was unavailable at stations around the island. Petrol was available for purchase, but supplies were limited, causing motorists to abandon their vehicles in long lines.
“We’re siphoning diesel from buses in the garage for repairs and using it to run functioning vehicles,” Sri Lanka Transport Minister Dilum Amunugama stated.
Private bus owners, who make up two-thirds of the country’s fleet, warned they were already out of oil and that even skeleton services might not be available after Friday. “We’re still utilizing outdated diesel stockpiles,” Gemunu Wijeratne, chairman of the private bus operators association, told AFP. “If we don’t obtain supplies by this evening, we won’t be able to run.”
Because they don’t have enough diesel for generators, the state electrical monopoly warned they’ll have to impose a 13-hour power outage starting Thursday, the longest ever.
“We have been promised additional supplies in two days, and if that happens, we will be able to shorten the duration of the power outages,” Ceylon Electricity Board chairman M. M. C. Ferdinando told reporters. He added that hydro reservoirs, which supply more than a third of the country’s electricity, were also dangerously low. The Colombo Stock Exchange was forced to reduce trading hours by half to two hours due to the prolonged power outages, and several offices advised non-essential employees to stay at home.
Mobile phone base stations were also affected by the electricity rationing, which impacted call quality, according to operators, who also reported their stand-by generators were out of diesel.
The shortages have generated fury across Sri Lanka, with hundreds of motorists blocking important roads in numerous towns, according to local television. Several state-run hospitals have halted operations due to a shortage of life-saving drugs, while the majority have halted diagnostic procedures that require imported chemicals in low supply, reports AFP.
In March 2020, Colombo announced a comprehensive import ban to save foreign currency required to service its $51 billion foreign debt. However, this has resulted in severe shortages of vital products as well as significant price increases.
The administration has stated that it is seeking a rescue from the IMF, as well as more loans from India and China.
The Covid-19 outbreak, which crippled tourism and remittances, aggravated Sri Lanka’s position. Many economists point to government mismanagement, such as tax cuts and years of budget deficits, as a contributing factor.