Ranil Wickremesinghe, appointed prime minister on Thursday, said in an address to the nation that the country urgently needed $75 million in foreign currency to pay for essential imports.
“At the moment, we only have one day’s supply of gasoline. The next two months will be the most difficult of our lives,” he said.
“We must be prepared to make sacrifices and meet the challenges of this period.”
Two shipments of gasoline and two shipments of diesel using an Indian line of credit could bring relief in the coming days, he added, but the country is also facing a shortage of 14 essential medicines.
Sri Lanka is currently facing a budget deficit of $6.8 billion (2.4 trillion Sri Lankan rupees), or 13% of its GDP.
In response to the crisis, Wickremesignhe said the country would print more money and offer to privatize Sri Lanka’s flagship airline to keep the economy afloat – although he admitted inflation could get worse short term.
In his speech on Thursday, he pledged to “build a nation without queues for kerosene, gas and fuel…a nation of abundant resources.”
The president replaced Mahinda Rajapaksa with Wickremesinghe, an opposition parliamentarian who held the post five times before, in a desperate attempt to appease protesters.
But protesters said they would continue their campaign as long as Gotabaya Rajapaksa remains president. They also called Wickremesinghe a lackey and criticized his appointment of four ministers, all members of the political party led by the Rajapaksa brothers.
Wickremesinghe said Monday he took the role for the good of the country.
In Colombo, the commercial capital, long queues of auto rickshaws, the city’s most popular means of transport, lined up at gas stations in a fruitless wait for fuel.
“I stood in line for more than six hours,” said a driver, Mohammad Ali. “We spend almost six to seven hours in line just to get gas.”
Another driver, Mohammad Naushad, said the gas station where he was waiting ran out of fuel.
“We’ve been here since 7-8am and it’s still unclear if they’ll have fuel or not,” he said. “When will he come, no one knows. Is there any reason to wait here, we don’t know either.”
A chronic shortage of foreign currency has led to runaway inflation and shortages of medicine, fuel and other essentials, sending thousands to the streets in protest.
A shipment of diesel using an Indian line of credit arrived in the country on Sunday, but has yet to be distributed across the island.
“Ask the public not to queue or refuel in the next three days until deliveries from all 1,190 gas stations are completed,” Energy Minister Kanchana said on Monday. Wijesekera.
Wickremesinghe has yet to announce key ministers, including the crucial post of finance minister, who will negotiate with the International Monetary Fund for badly needed financial aid.
Former finance minister Ali Sabry had held preliminary talks with the multilateral lender, but he resigned along with Mahinda Rajapaksa last week.