Sri Lankan doctors and other medical staff and teachers will take to the streets on Wednesday to demand that the government address the severe fuel shortage at the heart of the South Asian country’s worst financial crisis.
Last week, nine people were killed and nearly 300 injured when weeks of street demonstrations escalated against cascading issues, including power cuts and lack of food and medicine, leading to the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s elder brother, Prime Minister Mahindra Rajapaksa.
The government, which left only enough fuel for about a week, blocked supplies for essential services such as trains, buses and the health sector for two weeks on Tuesday.
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But even though doctors, nurses and other medical staff are considered essential workers, they still struggle to find the fuel to go to work.
“This is an impossible situation. The government must give us relief,” HM Medivatta, secretary of the All Island Nurses Union, one of Sri Lanka’s largest nursing unions, told reporters.
Sri Lanka’s most serious economic crisis since independence in 1948 comes after COVID-19 battered its tourism-dependent economy and cut off remittances from its overseas workers.
The seven-month ban on rising oil prices, popular tax cuts and the importation of chemical fertilizers that devastated agriculture last year have compounded the woes.
Medivatta explained how a special token is being ignored at petrol pumps to ensure medical personnel can buy fuel.
“The people at the pump won’t let us get ahead of the line … We can’t be on time for our feet.”
Public health workers and other health service workers were on strike Wednesday and Thursday.
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The island nation of 22 million people is almost empty of foreign exchange that can be used to import essential goods including food, medicine, petrol and diesel.
With a sense of growing crisis, many people have been arrested trying to flee the country by boat.
The government is also looking for help abroad.
Energy and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera met with Qatar’s Minister of State for Energy Affairs and Qatar Energy CEO Saad Sherida Al-Kabi on Tuesday.
Wijeshekhara is also seeking a credit line from the Qatar Fund for Development.
Another Sri Lankan minister travels to Russia over the weekend in search of energy deals.
US President Joe Biden has pledged $ 20 million to Sri Lanka to feed more than 800,000 children and 27,000 pregnant and lactating mothers over the next 15 months, President Rajapaksa said.
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Investment firm Asia Securities said the lack of fuel and other essential commodities, dwindling reserves and low financial space would remain major concerns for the rest of the year.
The economy may shrink from 7.5% to 9.0% a year, compared with its previous forecast of 5.5%. It said the economy grew 3.3% last year.
“It will undermine economic productivity in the medium term with low USD liquidity and rising rates,” it said.