For a few fatal litres more

The prevailing crises have led the people to take every imaginable measure to survive, just to ensure that their daily needs are met the next day, and some of these measures are unacceptable socially and legally, even though they are understandable given the prevailing dire economic situation.

Black markets for fuel, and also hoarding fuel for personal consumption, are some such unethical measures that are becoming exceedingly common. However, their social, economic, and individual costs can be higher than we assume.

On 26 June, it was reported that a fire erupted in a house in Kahathuduwa, claiming the lives of a married couple while injuring their two children. While investigations into the incident are in progress, it is reported that the Police suspect that petrol stored in a container in the house may have caused the fire.

Even though the exact reason for the fire is yet to be ascertained, it is not at all a secret that those who can get their hands on any fuel beyond the Government-allocated quotas tend to hoard it – sometimes for personal consumption and sometimes for resale at a profit. Even though the law enforcement authorities are conducting raids to seize these illegally collected fuel stocks – which has so far led to hundreds of raids and the seizure of tens of thousands of litres of petrol, diesel, and kerosene – the people are unlikely to stop hoarding fuel, especially in a context where the Government is unable to accurately disclose the date of arrival of the next fuel shipment. 

In fact, the Government and the energy sector authorities are partly to blame for the people’s tendency to hoard fuel, often in an unsafe manner. Until very recently, fuel-seekers had no way of knowing when their respective fuel stations would receive fuel, and how much of what types of fuel was being distributed, which resulted in the people unnecessarily lining up near fuel stations and resorting to illegal or unpermitted ways of obtaining fuel. Even now, despite having taken measures to announce fuel distribution plans, many fuel-seekers can be seen complaining about the poor accuracy or implementation of the fuel distribution plan because their respective fuel stations do not receive fuel in accordance with official announcements, which has ultimately resulted in nurturing their distrust. The result is that fuel-seekers gather near fuel stations even when the Government has stated that it cannot announce with certainty when the country will receive fuel.

In this context, it is understandable as to why the people are resorting to hoarding fuel. Despite being illegal, it is becoming a practice that the people are not afraid to admit openly, and some can be seen posting on social media, photos and videos of hundreds of litres of hoarded petrol and diesel.

In this context, conducting raids and requesting the public to abstain from panic buying and hoarding fuel are inadequate to put an end to this practice. The authorities also need to raise awareness about the risks of accidents that can be caused by stockpiling fuel in an unsafe manner. Such steps would at least ensure that the public know that the illegal hoarding of fuel only worsens economic and fuel availability or supply-related issues, and adds to the burdens of the healthcare sector.

This awareness-raising can be as easy as issuing safety precautions that can be taken to store fuel at home safely. Among these measures include storing fuel in properly sealed containers, in a well ventilated place, preferably far from the areas of the house where people reside. At the same time, keeping fuel containers in places that are not exposed to direct sunlight or heat, or sparks or flames, are measures that any person can be mindful of without much effort. Posting information about such precautions on social media platforms and on television channels is not a difficult thing for the authorities to do.

The procurement and supply of fuel is unlikely to return to normal anytime soon. In addition, while the Government is not even in a position to disclose exactly when the country will receive fuel, it also seems to be resorting to hiding such information from the people. In this context, hoarding fuel is also not an issue that is likely to come to an end anytime soon. Therefore, the authorities have a responsibility to raise awareness on how those who have stockpiled some fuel can store it in a safe manner. 

Hoarding fuel is an unacceptable act when the entire population is struggling to get some fuel, for which they have to spend days in queues. However, ensuring the people’s safety is a much more pressing concern.