tuk-tuk driver Mohammed speaks. Along with hundreds of other people, he stands in line for hours for fuel in the capital Colombo. “We can do nothing without gas and petroleum. No cooking, no income, nothing. Then we can only die.”
The despair also increases in the waiting Fatima. It is becoming increasingly difficult to buy and cook. “We are poor. My mother and father have not been able to eat because I was standing in line here for kerosene to cook on. But when it was my turn, they said it was over. That I should go home again.”
A bloody civil war, terrorist attacks and the corona pandemic. Sri Lanka’s paradise has suffered regularly in recent history. But now the country is gripped by the worst crisis since independence in 1948, according to government spokesmen.
The economy has completely collapsed, the prime minister has withdrawn after weeks of violent protests. The food has become so expensive that officials warn that famine is imminent. Fuel and medicine are also in short supply, and have therefore become extremely expensive. In parts of the country there is no more electricity because the plants no longer have oil to produce electricity.
Terror, corona, war
There are several reasons. Bad policy from the Rajapaksa government, which took out soaring loans and can no longer pay its $ 51 billion foreign debt. Terrorist attacks in 2019 and the subsequent corona crisis, which led to the lack of revenue from tourists, important for Sri Lanka.
The war in Ukraine is making things worse. It not only ensures that the main group of tourists, Russians and Ukrainians, stays away. The war has also made food and oil much more expensive. We notice this in the Netherlands, but it applies even more to the Sri Lankans, who have to import everything. While the government is crushed.
Not an easy way out
There is no easy way out of the crisis. Sri Lanka hopes that tourists will return soon. The new Prime Minister Wickremesinghe hopes the international community will help with an economic rescue package. But he has already warned his countrymen that it will be much worse for them in the near future.
When fuel is the engine of a society, then one sees how difficult it is for Sri Lanka. The government has had to raise petrol and diesel prices again this week by 20 and 35 per cent respectively. Inflation, warns Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, could reach 40 percent. This means that prices are 40 percent higher than a year ago. Our inflation is 11 percent.
The misery is ruining the lives of Sri Lankans, but is also affecting Dutch people working on the island in the tourism sector. That industry accounted for a third of the country’s income. But that income is now coming under heavy pressure again. We call Bart Damen as he has just been queuing for an hour and a half to score some petrol.
The lady owns Jackland Holiday Cabanas, holiday homes used mainly by Dutch and Belgian tourists, about 30 kilometers from the capital. “Prices are skyrocketing now. But it mainly affects the locals. We and tourists can still afford it. The lack of gas is a problem. Everyone cooks on gas, but it is hardly available now. We still have a little, but if I get a signal that a warehouse is coming in somewhere, I can get a new one, because right now I have petrol again, “says Damen.
In the good years, tens of thousands of Dutch tourists found their way to Sri Lanka every year. Code orange has recently been applied to Sri Lanka due to the sometimes violent protests against the government. Only necessary travel is advised. It seems the owner André Ladenius from the travel agency Singha is exaggerated. “The prime minister has been ousted, who is now relatively quiet.”
The Sri Lankan authorities are hoping for as many tourists as possible – and their money. “Organized travel is certainly possible. For example, tourists are given priority over petrol because they bring in dollars. It is positive for the tourists and for the economy. But it requires a lot from the population,” says Ladenius. Most of his planned travels continue. Some families with children have canceled.
Director Fenny Koppen from the travel organization Riksja Travel says: “It went well because Sri Lanka was the first Asian country to open its doors after the corona. Until recently. Most travelers now just leave their reservation. New travelers choose another destination. Safe there, but it’s a holiday and people want to feel good. “
Five star resort
Owner Anouk Brouwer from Tabula Rasa Resort in Galle sees a bleak future. Her guests are set on luxury and it is difficult during the crisis. “The problems started two months ago when there was not enough power. As a five-star resort, we use the generator, but when diesel was no longer available throughout the country, it also stopped. Tourists who checked in then left immediately, “so they heard there was no air conditioning. Since then it has only gotten harder,” says Brouwer.
She is worried. “All outstanding reservations have been canceled and nothing new will be added. When it will be picked up, no one will know. We are considering closing it again, as it is not profitable that way either. Luxury guests will not have a hassle “I get it, but it’s hard too, because if they do not come, it’s bad for the locals, too, for our staff.”