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Two die in fuel queues as Sri Lanka grapples with shortages

COLOMBO (AFP) – At least two people in Sri Lanka died while waiting in long queues for fuel, officials said yesterday, as widespread shortages cause misery and hardship across the island nation.

Sri Lanka is battling the worst economic crisis in its history as an independent nation, with a lack of foreign exchange to purchase vital imports shrinking the supply of essential goods.

Motorists are forced to wait hours for petrol and the government has imposed rolling blackouts as power utilities are unable to pay for enough foreign oil to meet demand.

Police said a 70-year-old man, who was standing in line to buy gasoline, collapsed and died at a filling station on the outskirts of the capital Colombo yesterday.

It was the second such death in as many days, after another elderly man collapsed in Kandy while waiting for kerosene oil to use as cooking fuel, police in the city confirmed.

Local media reports said multiple women standing in the hot sun to buy cooking gas had fainted at several locations across the island over the weekend.

Oil and liquefied petroleum gas shipments have sat idle at Colombo’s main port, with importers unable to scrape together enough foreign currency to pay for them.

The COVID-19 pandemic throttled Sri Lanka’s tourism sector – a key foreign exchange earner – and foreign worker remittances have also declined.

Authorities announced last week that the country will seek an International Monetary Fund bailout to resolve its worsening foreign debt crisis and shore up reserves. Rating agencies and foreign analysts have cast doubt on the cash-strapped nation’s ability to service its USD51 billion external debt, with USD6.9 billion due in repayments this year.

A woman walks past a closed petrol station in Colombo. PHOTO: AFP