Sri Lanka: in search of a drop of petrol
Sri Lanka is in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades. Resentment and anger are growing among the population. These days Lasanda Deepthi's life is ruled by the needle on her tutktuk's fuel gauge. By Claudia Dehn
Fuel, or the lack thereof: Lasanda Deepthi is 43 years old and one of the few women to drive an auto-rickshaw, also called a tuktuk, in Sri Lanka. The fuel gauge of her sky-blue vehicle has become the most important determining factor in her daily life, dictating her routine and how many rides she can offer each day
Once time was money: when the fuel gauge needle moves into the red zone, the driver joins one of the long queues at the petrol stations. Often she waits there more than twelve hours for petrol. The price of petrol is constantly rising: she now pays more than 150 percent more at the pump than she did eight months ago
Dire economic crisis: Deepthi is one of millions of people who are struggling in the face of galloping inflation, falling incomes and shortages of everyday goods. From fuel to medicines, many everyday items have become too expensive. Sri Lanka is experiencing one of the worst economic crises since its independence in 1948
Rising inflation: Lasanda Deepthi has been doing this job for seven years, keeping her family of five afloat. She works with a ride-sharing app – PickMe. At home, she goes through her expense book. Her monthly income of about 50,000 Sri Lanka rupees has fallen to less than half due to inflation. Year-on-year, inflation has risen by 30 percent
Petrol in short supply: while she heats hot water for tea over an open fire, Deepthi talks about the day she has had. Several times she queued for petrol at the filling station, and when it was finally her turn, the petrol had sold out. Deepthi lives in a small tenement house on the outskirts of the capital Colombo. She shares the two rooms in the house with her three brothers and her mother
Day and night: waiting times at petrol stations are getting longer and longer. In mid-May, Deepthi actually waited for two and a half days in a queue for petrol. Her brother kept her company: "I can't describe how bad it is. Sometimes I don't feel safe at night, but there is nothing I can do"
A slave to the routine: every morning, after getting dressed, Deepthi washes her TukTuk. Then she lights a stick of incense hoping for divine blessing. Only then does she set out to find the cheapest petrol stations with available fuel. Every day brings new challenges
No hope of a quick recovery: the current crisis is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and tax cuts passed by the government. Lasanda Deepthi is completely disillusioned: "I can hardly afford enough rice and vegetables for my family," she says. "I can't find any medicine that my mother needs. What will we live on next month? I have no idea what our future will look like"