At least two people in Sri Lanka died while waiting in long queues for fuel, officials said Sunday, 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 outside gas stations 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 on Sunday.
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 liquified 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 IMF 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 $51 billion external debt, with $6.9 billion due in repayments this year.
Shortages have wrought havoc on almost every aspect of daily life, with authorities this week postponing term tests for nearly three million students because of a lack of paper and ink.
The island’s electricity utility has also said it is out of paper to print monthly bills for millions of consumers.