In Sri Lanka, as economic crisis worsens, two men die waiting in queue for fuel

People stand in a queue to buy kerosene oil for home use at a petrol station in Colombo, on March 17, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (REUTERS) - Sri Lankan police said on Sunday (March 20) that two men collapsed and died while waiting in separate queues to secure fuel amid sky-rocketing prices leading to record inflation.

The men, in their seventies, died while they were waiting for petrol and kerosene oil in two different parts of the country, said police spokesman Nalin Thalduwa in commercial capital Colombo.

For weeks people have been queuing up at pumps, often for hours, and the country has been under rolling power cuts.

"One was a 70-year-old three-wheeler driver who was a diabetic and heart patient while the second was a 72-year-old, both had been waiting in line for about four hours for fuel oil," Mr Thalduwa said.

On Sunday, Sri Lanka suspended operations at its only fuel refinery after crude oil stocks ran out, said Mr Ashoka Ranwala the president of the Petroleum General Employees' Union.

The energy ministry could not be immediately reached for a comment.

Use of kerosene oil has increased after low-income families began shifting away from cooking gas due to price increases. On Sunday, Laugfs Gas, the country's second largest supplier raised prices by 1,359 rupees (S$24.27) for a 12.5kg cylinder, the company said.

Sri Lanka has been struggling to find dollars to pay for increasingly expensive fuel shipments since January, with its foreign currency reserves dipping to US$2.31 billion (S$3.1 billion) in February.

In February, Sri Lanka's inflation hit 15.1 per cent, among the highest in Asia, with food inflation soaring to 25.7 per cent, latest government data showed.

Earlier this month, Sri Lanka's central bank floated the rupee causing the currency to plummet by more than 30 per cent to trade at about 275 rupees per US dollar.

Milk powder prices increased by 250 rupees for a 400g pack on Saturday, prompting restaurant owners to raise the cost of a cup of milk tea to 100 rupees.

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