Inside Sri Lanka’s devastating economic crisis

By Devana Senanayake, a journalist from Colombo, Sri Lanka.

On June 21, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, cars, and buses lined up at a fuel station on the edge of Colombo’s Kurunduwatta, a neighborhood of tree-lined streets and old mansions. While the tuk-tuk drivers chatted with each other as they stood around near their three-wheelers, motorcyclists doom-scrolled on their phones, flies and mosquitoes buzzing around them in the scorching heat. They had all taken time out of their jobs and daily responsibilities to wait for hours—even days—to fill their tanks.

“We managed to survive the pandemic, but this is worse,” said Sarath Nanayyakara, a 61-year-old private school bus driver, who has been forced to sell valuables and take out loans to survive over the past couple of years. “If I work for two days, I have to stay in the queue for two more days to fill up the tank.”

“Out of my monthly salary of 50,000 rupees [$140], I currently spend 30,000 rupees on fuel,” said Morgan Anusha, a 28-year-old accountant who relies on her motorbike to get to work each day. Ruwan Chaminda, a 50-year-old tuk-tuk driver, also spends most of his earnings on gas. “I have two children, and one is still in school, so I have to support her,” he said as a nearby shop provided free coffee to those in line. “This is the only job I have done for 20 years, so I have to roll with it.”

The country’s fuel supply has been limited since May, but in recent weeks, the shortage has escalated into a full-blown crisis. On June 27, the government announced that the country had little fuel left, and it reserved supplies for essential services such as public transit and the health sector, restricting it for all others. Schools have been shut. Interprovincial bus services are limited. Many people have been asked to work remotely. The country has come to a standstill until the next gasoline shipment arrives on July 22. As Vagisha Gunasekara, an economist at the United Nations Development Program in Sri Lanka, put it, “the fuel crisis has paralyzed the economy.”

The fuel shortages are just one part of an economic crisis that has upended daily life in the country. For months, Sri Lankans have faced shortages of fuel, gas, and medicine, as well as skyrocketing inflation—now around 55 percent—that has drastically increased the cost of living. In response, people around the country have been protesting since April. On July 9, they stormed into and occupied the official residences and offices of both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, causing both to announce their intentions to resign.

At this point, only Rajapaksa, who has fled the country, has resigned, and he has appointed Wickremasinghe as acting president. As demonstrators continue to protest Wickremasinghe and wait for Parliament to elect a new president, which it is set to do on July 20, the country’s political and economic future—and the livelihoods of everyday Sri Lankans—hang in the balance.

Read full story here

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *