Colombo, Sri Lanka – Fatima Hussein has been queuing for eight hours in scorching heat to buy kerosene at a gas station in a busy suburb of the Sri Lankan capital.
Fatima, a single mother of three, says she has been lining up to buy kerosene at least twice a week for the past few months. On those days, she can’t work.
“If I don’t work, they don’t pay me. I earn about 1,200 rupees a day and bear all the expenses of the family. All my children are in school and their expenses are increasing,” he told Al Jazeera.
With the cheapest price among all fuels, at Rs 87 per liter (less than 30 US cents for 34 fluid ounces), kerosene is the fuel of choice for the urban poor, property workers and fishermen in Sri Lanka. These communities use kerosene for cooking, lighting and, in the case of fishermen, to propel their boats.
“We use kerosene for cooking and even for lamps to save money on electricity. Gasoline has always been a luxury that we couldn’t afford,” said Fatima.
On days when she needs to buy kerosene, Fatima said she arrives at the gas station at 7 am “There’s a long queue even then,” she said.
“We waited in line under the scorching sun. I bring a bottle of water. I can’t afford to buy food. We stand close to each other, tight, and wait,” she said.
“The government says that people must maintain social distancing due to the threat of COVID-19. They don’t care about us because we are poor. People are angry and frustrated and have blocked the roads several times demanding fuel.”
For months, thousands of Sri Lankans have queued for fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine amid the country’s crisis. worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, triggering spontaneous protests in the streets across the island demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
On Sunday, shortly after thousands of people defied the state of emergency and curfew and joined street protests denouncing the government, the entire cabinet except the president’s older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned on Sunday. Sunday.
To resolve the crisis, the president offered the opposition to join a unity government, but the main opposition party, the United People’s Force (SJB), rejected the offer.
Sri Lanka’s parliament met on Tuesday for the first time since the state of emergency was declared.
Meanwhile, as fuel prices rise due to the Russian-Ukrainian war, the island’s stocks are running low. The shortage of foreign exchange has also affected essential supplies, including food and medicine.
The price of gasoline and diesel has almost doubled in a month. The price of LPG, which urban residents often use for cooking, has tripled this year, forcing people to turn to kerosene.
HR Mohammed, 43, who has also been queuing to buy kerosene for more than six hours, said he saw a old man collapse while waiting in the long line.
“As the Ramadan fast will begin in a few days, many more will fall victim to heat and exhaustion,” he told Al Jazeera last week.
The holy month of Ramadan, in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, began in Sri Lanka on April 2.
Mohammed, who drives an auto-rickshaw, says that every day he spends in queues for kerosene adds to his financial problems.
SA Wijepala, 66, a resident of Kiribathgoda, says that while he doesn’t like the taste of food cooked with kerosene, this is all he can afford.
A former employee of the Sri Lanka Railways, he said his pension is barely enough to meet his basic needs amid high inflation.
“At the end of last year, we decided that we will have to switch to kerosene. This was even before gas prices skyrocketed. Now a gas cylinder costs more than 4000 rupees and this is beyond me. So, I am forced to stand in line for hours and buy kerosene,” she said.
Niroshani Perera, a bank employee, says she takes several canisters to work and lines up every time she hears kerosene is available at a station.
Niroshani said some government officials allege that most of the people in the queues are hoarding kerosene to sell on the black market.
“These accusations are not only hurtful but also make people very angry,” he said. “Ministers and officials should be more sensitive to our struggles.”