COLOMBO, June 17 — Sri Lankan authorities today announced a two-week shutdown of government offices and schools, as public transport ground almost entirely to a halt due to a lack of dollars to pay for imported fuel.
The Public Administration ministry ordered all departments, public institutions and local councils to maintain skeleton services from Monday in response to the acute shortage of petrol and diesel.
"Due to scarce public transport as well as the inability to arrange private vehicles, it is decided to drastically curtail the number of employees reporting to work," the ministry's order said.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence in 1948, and has been unable to finance the import of necessities such as food, medicines and fuel since late last year.
The country is also facing record high inflation and lengthy power blackouts, all of which have contributed to months of protests -- sometimes violent -- calling on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down.
Earlier this week, authorities declared Friday a holiday, also in a bid to conserve fuel.
Despite that move, long queues were seen outside pumping stations today, with many motorists saying they had waited for days to top up their tanks.
The education ministry said all schools have been asked to remain closed for two weeks from Monday and to ensure online teaching if students and teachers had access to electricity.
The shutdown order came a day after the United Nations launched its emergency response to the island's unprecedented economic crisis by feeding thousands of pregnant women who were facing food shortages.
Four out of five people in Sri Lanka have started skipping meals as they cannot afford to eat, the UN has said, warning of a looming "dire humanitarian crisis" with millions in need of aid.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said it began distributing food vouchers to about 2,000 pregnant women in Colombo's "underserved" areas as part of "life-saving assistance" on Thursday.
The WFP is trying to raise 60 million dollars for a food relief effort between June and December.
Sri Lanka defaulted on its 51 billion dollar foreign debt in April, and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. — AFP