Sri Lanka closes schools and offices as fuel runs out

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NEW DELHI – Schools and government offices in Sri Lanka’s major cities were closed on Monday for at least a week as severe fuel shortages nearly brought the country to a standstill, the latest chapter in a slow-moving economic crisis that has led to political protests. unrest and growing food insecurity.

Many streets in the usually bustling capital Colombo were largely deserted. Armed forces stood guard at gas stations while rows of vehicles stretched for miles. Hours of waiting have led to tense confrontations and violent confrontations in recent days between frustrated Sri Lankans and security forces.

In a frank statement, the Minister of Energy asked the public to refrain from queuing for gasoline for the next three days. Authorities announced last week that government workers, with the exception of those in essential areas such as health care, would work from home given the “current shortage of fuel and problems with transportation facilities”.

Chandima Madusanka, a rickshaw driver in Colombo, said he waited two days to get seven liters (less than two gallons) of gasoline, which he estimated would only last a day. He said it was impossible to feed his family.

“How can we live like this?” he asked angrily.

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Critical talks between Sri Lankan government and International Monetary Fund For the rescue package being held in Colombo this week. In April, the country suspended payments to external debtamounting to 51 billion dollars.

Experts said the talks are an important first step in avoiding economic collapse, but only a starting point. “Even with the IMF programme, money from loans will not be enough to restore all that is needed to put Sri Lanka in a transformation position,” said Lutz Röhmeyer of Capitulum Asset Management, a German investment firm.

Life has become a daily struggle for many in this island nation of 23 million people, as it grapples with its worst economic crisis in decades. food swell It reached 57 percent last month, and another exploratory study By the World Food Program conducted in 17 of 25 districts it was found that most families feel the effects of hunger.

“Big red flags” were found among the poor, who have resorted to “skipping meals, eating much smaller meals, or buying cheaper foods that are not nutritious,” said Anthea Webb, WFP’s deputy regional director for Asia and the Pacific.

“We have to rely on handouts, and even those are no longer frequent now,” said Lalitha Jayasundara, 58, who cleans roads and collects rubbish in Colombo. “Survive every day battle.”

Public anger over economic mismanagement erupted into the streets. Months of protests led to the resignation of the prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in May, but his brother Gotabaya remains the president.

Sri Lanka’s neighbors lend a helping hand: India Sent food, fuel and medicine, while Australia announced 50 million dollars in aidincluding food and health services.

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But a lack of foreign reserves and soaring global food prices have made it difficult for the government to import basic staples, while hyperinflation and rampant unemployment mean most families can’t afford what’s on the shelves.

Akalanka Punchihewa recently lost his food delivery job after the restaurant where he worked closed. The 32-year-old has a young child and a sick father but there is no way to support them.

“We were cooking with wood and had to stop giving our baby milk,” he said. “We just can’t afford these prices.”

Government programs have also been affected. The Federal Nutrition Program for Women was recently suspended due to a lack of resources. In an effort to bridge the gap, the World Food Program began food voucher program For pregnant women in Colombo and launched a Crowdfunding campaign for meals.

From now until the end of the year, about 3 million people will need [WFP’s] Webb said. “It’s too much for a country of this size. There is no time to waste.”

Fars reported from Colombo.