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10 hours of power cuts in Sri Lanka as crisis deepens

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Colombo (AFP) – Sri Lanka on Wednesday began imposing record 10-hour daily power cuts across the country as it lacked hydropower in addition to a severe fuel shortage.

The South Asian nation of 22 million people is going through its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948, due to a severe shortage of foreign currency to pay for imports.

The state electricity monopoly said it was imposing the 10-hour blackout, down from a seven-hour blackout since the start of the month, because there was no oil to power thermal generators.

More than 40% of Sri Lanka’s electricity is generated by hydropower, but most reservoirs were dangerously low because there had been no rain, officials said.

Most electricity generation comes from coal and oil. Both are imported but in insufficient numbers because the country does not have enough foreign currency to pay for the supplies.

Meanwhile, the main fuel retailer, state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), said there would be no diesel in the country for at least two days.

The CPC told motorists waiting in long queues at gas stations not to leave and return until after the imported diesel has been unloaded and dispensed.

Fuel prices have also risen frequently, with petrol up 92% and diesel 76% year-to-date.

The government took 12 days to find $44 million to pay for the last delivery of LPG and kerosene, officials said.

Colombo imposed a broad import ban in March 2020 to save foreign currency needed to service its $51 billion in external debt.

But it has led to widespread shortages of essential goods and steep price hikes.

Many hospitals halted routine surgeries and supermarkets were forced to ration basic foods, including rice, sugar and powdered milk.

The government said it was seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund while asking for more loans from India and China.

The crisis has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has torpedoed tourism and remittances. Many economists also blame government mismanagement, including tax cuts and years of budget deficits.