Non-essential petrol sales halted for two weeks in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has suspended sales of fuel for non-essential vehicles as it faces its worst economic crisis in decades.

For the next two weeks, only buses, trains and vehicles used for medical services and transporting food will be allowed to fill up with fuel.

Schools in urban areas have shut, while officials have told the country’s 22 million residents to work from home.

The South Asian nation is in talks over a bailout deal as it struggles to pay for imports such as fuel and food.

Sri Lanka is the first country to take the drastic step in halting sales of fuel to ordinary people “since the 1970s oil crisis, when fuel was rationed in the US and Europe and speed limits introduced to reduce demand”, Nathan Piper, head of oil and gas research at Investec, told the BBC.

He said the ban underlined the steep rise in oil pricing and limited foreign exchange reserves in Sri Lanka.

Many of the island’s residents don’t know how they will cope without fuel. There have been long queues at filling stations across Sri Lanka in recent months.

Chinthaka Kumara, a 29-year-old taxi driver in Colombo, thought the ban would “create more problems for people”.

“I’m a daily wage earner. I’ve been in this queue for three days and I don’t know when we will get petrol,” he told BBC Sinhala.

Drivers have now been asked to go home, with tokens distributed aimed at rationing scarce fuel stocks. Some kept queuing, but others couldn’t.

“I was in a queue for two days. I got a token – number 11 – but I don’t know when I will get fuel,” S Wijetunga, a 52-year-old private sector executive, told the BBC.

“I need to go to the office now, so I have no option but to leave my vehicle here and go in a three-wheeler.”

‘Severe economic crisis’

With an economy hit hard by the pandemic, rising energy prices and populist tax cuts, Sri Lanka lacks enough foreign currency to pay for imports of essential goods.

Acute shortages of fuel, food and medicines have helped to push the cost of living to record highs in the country, where many people rely on motor vehicles for their livelihoods.

On Monday, the government said it would ban private vehicles from buying petrol and diesel until 10 July.

(Source: BBC, June 28-2022)

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