No kerosene, no food, says Sri Lankan fishermen

MANNAR, Sri Lanka (Reuters) – As the sun rose over Sri Lanka one morning in late August, about a dozen fishermen cast their nets on the beach of Mannar, a small island off the country’s northwest coast. . start of the day’s work.

However, many other fishermen in the community cannot go to sea at all due to the country’s devastating economic crisis, which is facing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

Fuel shortages and runaway inflation mean they are struggling to procure the kerosene needed to power the boats they make a living on.

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“Everything is difficult at the moment. We have neither kerosene nor food at home,” said 73-year-old Susaypilai Nicholas, better known as Sonam.

“We can’t get a job if we don’t come to the sea, otherwise we won’t get anything. We are starving,” he said in Tamil.

Already suffering from food shortages before the economic crisis began, Sonam no longer went to sea due to his age, but came to Thalvapadu Beach to help collect and sort the catch of the fishermen who managed to set sail. .

But kerosene was scarce, and people who would normally go out in their own boats now do similar work, with 40 workers per boat instead of the formerly 15.

Sonam’s earnings plummeted as profits were split. According to him, now he sometimes gets 250 Sri Lankan rupees (around US$70) a day.

Inflation is now around 65% year-on-year, and grocery inflation is close to 94%.

For months, Mannar had no access to kerosene at all, as foreign exchange reserves were depleted and crude could not be imported for refineries. When supplies resumed just a few weeks ago, kerosene prices were almost four times higher as Sri Lanka began to remove fuel subsidies.

“We don’t need luxuries like gasoline or diesel. All we need is kerosene for our important work,” said Raja Cruz, the owner of the boat Sonam came to his aid.

He said some families in the area fled to India, less than 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the northernmost tip of Mannar Island, in hopes of better prospects.

Kerosene, which used to sell at a subsidized price of Rs 87 per liter or about 92 cents per gallon, is now priced at Rs 340 per liter, or the government rate of $3.62 per gallon. It is sold in According to Cruz, Black In his market he sells for 1,800 rupees per liter.

“The kerosene price revision has been a necessity for years,” Sri Lanka’s Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera said in a tweet last month. “Prices now match costs, and the government is proposing direct cash subsidies to kerosene-dependent low-income households, fisheries and the plantation sector.”

But Manar’s family has yet to receive the handout, Cruz said.

rowing, manual work

Cruz also said fishermen believed the wind turbines at Talvapadu Beach were making a humming sound, thus driving the fish away from the shore. Due to the lack of kerosene, the fishermen could not go far out to sea and had to content themselves with smaller catches.

Local fisheries official Sarath Chandranayaka said authorities were aware of the allegations and were collecting data, but nothing has yet been proven.

Chandranayaka also said 60% of Mannar’s needs have been met after kerosene supplies resumed, but there could be a further shortage during the busy season in the second half of the year when demand for fuel surges. rice field.

According to Cruz, many fishermen relied on “small jobs” such as catching crabs near shore to make a living.

“Without kerosene, you can’t go to the sea, you can’t go far,” Cruz said. “Rs 1,800 if you buy it as an individual. Think how much it costs Rs 87 to Rs 1,800. How are we going to live?”

The recent kerosene rationing has provided some relief, but higher prices mean a tough decision for fishermen who are also struggling to afford basic necessities and food due to high inflation levels. Mr Cruz said.

Just before sunset, when the boats returned, multiple boats were returning to shore to save fuel.

Peter Jayem Alan, who was in a kerosene-fueled boat with other fishermen, said he switched to rowboats to earn a living.

“I used to have kerosene, so it was no problem. I went out,” said Alan. “Nowadays, it is difficult to obtain kerosene, so we have no choice but to struggle.”

Some fishermen who do not have their own boat join other fishermen and receive a daily share of the profits. Ebert Rajeevan, 35, works this way and sometimes does other manual tasks on land to survive.

“At the moment, if I had kerosene, I could go to work every day. Without kerosene, today I would find out what I did with these people. Hmm,” said Rajeevan.

Sometimes the boats were already full, he said. “Then we have to stay home. We have to stay home and do whatever daily wage labor comes to us.”

($1 = 355.0000 Sri Lanka Rupees)

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Additional reporting by Joseph Campbell.Edited by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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