Sri Lanka crisis forces 13-hour blackouts, and hospitals shut down

The power regulator urges government workers to work from home to conserve fuel while hospitals stop routine procedures as the economic crisis worsens.

Sri Lanka has announced nationwide power outages lasting 13 hours every Thursday. Other hospitals have shut down routine surgeries because they ran out of life-saving drugs in the face of the island’s economic woes getting worse.

The South Asian nation of 22 million people is experiencing its worst economic slump since its independence in 1948. A severe shortage of foreign currency caused the crisis to cover even the most essential imports.

List of four items

  • The prices are rising in crisis-hit Sri Lanka; many forced to work
  • Sri Lanka seeks another $1bn from India. In this report
  • A sharp rise prices Sri Lanka fuel prices as the economy struggles
  • Sri Lankan papers run out of newsprint as the economic crisis aggravates

The electricity regulator in the state announced that it was going to extend Wednesday’s power outage by an additional three hours starting Thursday to enforce an uninterrupted blackout that lasted for 13 hours.

It is believed that the Indian Ocean island nation had been subject to severe rationing of electricity from the beginning of the month. The authority said the earlier rise in power outages between seven and 10 hours was ordered due to the absence of oil to fuel thermal generators.

Over 40 percent of Sri Lanka’s power is produced by hydropower. However, according to officials, most reservoirs were at risk of being over-filled due to the absence of rain.

Two hospitals have reported that they had suspended routine surgeries because they were at risk of deficient in essential medical supplies and anesthetics and chemicals needed for performing diagnostic tests. They were looking to stock them in the event of an emergency.

The most extensive medical facility in Sri Lanka is the National Hospital of Sri Lanka in the capital city. It announced it also had put off regular diagnostic procedures. The official also said that the hospital continued to be supplied with power by the country’s grid.

A man tries to fix his three-wheeler engine using a mobile phone torch on a main road during a power cut in Colombo [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

The nation’s electricity regulator has asked over a million employees of the government to work from their homes to conserve energy.

“We submitted a request to the government to let employees of the public sector, which includes approximately 1.3 million employees who work in the coming two days handle the power and fuel shortages better.” Janaka Ratnayake, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka, told Reuters information agency.

The country is facing its worst economic downturn in a generation. The foreign currency reserves have plunged by 70 percent over the past two years. They were down to just $2.31bn in February, leaving Sri Lanka struggling to import essential items, such as fuel and food.

The long-running power outages on Wednesday were mainly due to the government’s inability to pay $52 million for a diesel cargo that was offloading, Ratnayake claimed.

“We don’t have any forex to pay for,” the minister said and warned of further power outages in the coming days. “That is the truth.”

Widespread protests

Sri Lanka’s largest fuel retailer has announced that there will be no diesel, the fuel frequently used in public transport throughout the island, for two days.

Local television stations reported numerous protests across the nation in support of fuel for private vehicles used to transport public transportation.

There was no evidence of violence. However, thousands of drivers blocked major roads in many towns. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in Colombo in protest of the deportation of governor Ajith Cabraal.

State-owned officials from Ceylon Petroleum Corporation urged queueing motorists to exit and return after the diesel imports were unloaded and distributed.

The cost of fuel has been repeatedly increased, with petrol costs almost doubled and diesel prices rising by 76% since the start of the current year.

Colombo has imposed a comprehensive import ban in March of 2020 to protect foreign currency that is needed to pay off its $51 billion worth of debt. However, this has resulted in massive shortages of essential items and sharp price hikes.

The government has announced that it would like to get assistance from the International Monetary Fund while asking for additional money from India and China.

Sri Lanka’s current situation was made more difficult by the COVID-19 epidemic that ravaged the tourism industry and the remittances of people. Many economists blame the government for mistakes, such as tax cuts and years of budget deficits.

On Wednesday, the national statistics office reported economic expansion at 3.7 percent in the calendar year 2021 before the recession began to take hold – a significant increase from a record-breaking decline of 3.6 percent the year before.


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