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4 Ways that Fuel Shortages in Sri Lanka Affect Poverty and Inequality

Fuel Shortages in Sri Lanka
Recently, Sri Lanka quite literally ran out of fuel and has since resorted to extreme rationing, negotiating credit for fuel with foreign nations and receiving international aid. The economy is in shambles, with soaring inflation and foreign debt, mostly due to government mismanagement, according to experts. Amidst protests, the previous president fled to Singapore. Fuel shortages in Sri Lanka have prevented mobility across the country and ground the economy to a halt. Cars queued for days for a chance to get fuel. Due to a lack of transportation, food and other essentials have become difficult to access for many. While concerted responses in both the short and long term can help mitigate the consequences of this fuel crisis, Sri Lankans will continue to endure hardships for months if not years to come. Here are four ways that the fuel crisis is affecting the country.

4 Ways that Fuel Shortages in Sri Lanka are Affecting Poverty and Inequality

  1. Reduced Access to Schools. Lacking fuel for transportation, many children have no way to get to school. Sri Lanka had to close down its schools for several weeks at the end of June. Although many schools have since reopened, attendance rates have plummeted as students still face transportation issues. With the subsequent food crisis, many children walk long distances to grocery stores. Poor internet infrastructure prevents the widespread use of virtual learning. As children do not have access to education, their economic futures are likely to suffer. Considering that schools were not open for a year and a half at the beginning of the pandemic, continued closure from fuel shortages could mean that many children might not receive an education at all.
  2. Reduced Access to Employment. As transportation becomes increasingly unavailable, Sri Lanka’s employment crisis deepens. Government employees had to work from home in order to reduce fuel consumption. Most workers have had to travel long distances by foot, and many companies have had to shut down or downsize, further reducing employment. According to Sarala Emmanuel, a Sri Lankan researcher and activist, “There is no fixed salary, no protection, no compensation if there is an accident, no pensions, and no support if a person cannot do their job anymore.”
  3. Food Insecurity. According to a World Food Programme Assessment, in July 2022, nearly 6.3 million Sri Lankans were food insecure. Not only does the lack of fuel exacerbate access to food, but food companies have decreased production in response to dwindling sales. The agricultural sector has also taken a hit, with rice production dropping by 50% as of July.
  4. Inequality. Sri Lanka has received fuel shipments to ease the ongoing crisis. However, fuel is not always evenly distributed, with the wealthy and well-connected having more access than taxi drivers and tractor operators. Unequal access to resources is a particularly important issue to Sri Lankans, as the whole crisis is mainly the result of government corruption, nepotism and mismanagement.

Re-Mobilizing Developments

While fuel and food shortages have battered the people and strained the capacity of the government in Sri Lanka, other countries are pitching in to help with the crisis. India, Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor and largest import partner, has supplied Sri Lanka with $3.5 billion of aid as of May 2022. The World Bank has also funneled $160 million in aid for Sri Lanka to buy more fuel. Meanwhile, the IMF will provide $2.9 billion to mitigate the effects of Sri Lanka’s fuel crisis. In the longer term, the country is working towards a future less reliant on fossil fuels, with Ideal Motos having recently unveiled a domestic electric vehicle that can charge from solar roofs. These developments could help Sri Lanka get back on its feet and mobilize its economy.

– Ashwin Telang
Photo: Flickr