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A woman from Sri Lanka A rickshaw driver may have to wait up to 12 hours for gasoline

Image: Reuters Berita 24 English -  Lasanda Deepthi, a Sri Lankan woman of 43, schedules her day around petrol lines. She drives an auto-ric...

Image: Reuters

Berita 24 English -  Lasanda Deepthi, a Sri Lankan woman of 43, schedules her day around petrol lines.

She drives an auto-rickshaw on the outskirts of Colombo's business city, and before accepting a job, she checks the petrol gauge on her sky-blue three-wheeler to make sure she has enough fuel.

She enters the line outside a petrol station when the needle is nearly empty. She sometimes has to wait all night for gasoline, and when she finally gets it, it costs two-and-a-half times what it did eight months ago.

Deepthi is one of millions of Sri Lankans fighting high inflation plummeting salaries, and shortages of everything from fuel to medicine as the country struggles to recover from its worst economic crisis since 1948.

On the 22-million-strong island off India's southern coast, a female auto-rickshaw driver is an unusual sight.

Deepthi has been using the local ride-hailing app PickMe for seven years to support her family of five.

She's been scrambling to get enough gas and earn enough since the financial crisis hit, as rides have dried up and inflation has surpassed 30% year-on-year.

Her monthly salary of around 50,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($138) began to decline in January and is now less than half of what she earned previously.

Deepthi commented, "I spend more time in line for gasoline than I do anything else." "Sometimes I join a queue at 3 p.m., but I don't get fuel for another 12 hours."

"I've gotten to the front of the line a couple of times just to have the gasoline run out," she said as she brewed tea in her small, two-bedroom rented house in Gonapola, a small hamlet on the outskirts of Colombo, where she lives with her mother and three younger brothers.

She has a married daughter and is divorced from her husband.

Deepthi said she spent two and a half days in line for petrol in mid-May, with the help of one of her brothers.

"I don't know how to convey how bad it is," she added. "I don't feel safe at night sometimes, but there's nothing else to do."

She changed her clothes, filled a bottle of water, cleaned down her auto-rickshaw, and lighted an incense stick to ask divine blessings before getting into the vehicle, like she had done many times before.

Her task, as it is most days, is to locate gasoline, the price of which has risen by 259 percent since October 2021, as the government withdrew subsidies in an attempt to stabilize the economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which destroyed the rich tourism industry and drained foreign workers' remittances, and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's populist tax cuts are at the basis of Sri Lanka's current problems.

Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets across Sri Lanka in recent months, generally peacefully protesting major shortages and accusing the powerful Rajapaksa family of mismanaging the economy.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, the country's new prime minister who was also named finance minister last week, wants to present a budget in six weeks that will cut spending "to the bone" and funnel it into a two-year welfare program.

His measures are also anticipated to speed up talks with the International Monetary Fund for a desperately needed loan package.

Deepthi, on the other hand, is pessimistic.

Last year, she had to sell the automobile she bought with her money after falling behind on her lease payments.

A second auto-rickshaw, which is normally operated by one of her brothers, requires maintenance that the family cannot afford. She is more than 100,000 rupees delinquent on a debt for land she purchased prior to the outbreak.

Deepthi also wants to see her three-month-old granddaughter, but she's not sure how she'll go 170 kilometers (105 miles) to Matara, where her daughter works as a nurse.

She explained, "I can hardly afford enough rice and vegetables for my family." "I can't seem to locate the medications that my mother need." How will we live in a month's time? "I'm not sure what our future holds."

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