Local Shell businesses assist refugees in cooperation with UNHCR

Over the years the private sector has provided UNHCR with assistance in its efforts to help refugees around the world. Recently in two separate parts of the globe local Shell businesses have been cooperating with UNHCR in this regard.

In 2002, we began a pilot project under which Shell employs refugees in part of the company's retail network in Greece. Following an initial screening by one of UNHCR's implementing partners, candidates are interviewed by Shell Hellas. Successful ones go on to receive training while holding temporary, renewable contracts with Shell. So far two refugees have benefited from this arrangement, which is expected to continue throughout 2003.

In a very different scenario in south-west Asia, Shell Pakistan Limited (SPL) made another valuable contribution in the form of diesel and container drums to both new and old refugee camps hosting Afghan refugees. From May 2002 until mid-February 2003, SPL provided some 252,000 litres of diesel to run the generators for 15 water-supply systems.

In this arid region of the world, compounded by recent drought, water has become an increasingly precious resource. Moreover, 70 percent of costs related to running the generators are fuel-related. Refugees are responsible for buying the fuel and have faced great hardships coming up with even partial funding. Prior to the Shell donation, the generators were running every other day and supplying only half of the daily water requirements.

In addition to fuel, SPL also donated some 10,000 buckets and 3,000 multi-purpose steel drums, which were distributed to refugee camps in the Pakistan's North West Frontier Province and the province of Baluchistan for the purpose of water collection.

As a result, refugees in the camps concerned received the minimum requirement of 15 litres per person/per day. Consequently, there was a significant decrease in water-borne diseases. "Grey water" was channelled to the small gardens and fruit trees of some of the refugee compounds while the availability of more water allowed for the completion of mud walls for dwellings and other buildings in some camps.

Another apparent side effect has been the decreased number of mechanical repairs owing to the high-quality Shell fuel, compared with the previous source that caused unnecessary breakdowns.

The project also had a positive effect on tensions between the camps and the local population. Refugees had fewer reasons to frequent local water sources and thus represented less of a burden and health risk for locals living downstream from camps.

Overall Shell Pakistan Limited's donation was of vital assistance to thousands of Afghan refugees living in UNHCR camps in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan. Given the important role that water plays in everyday life, the increased availability of this precious resource greatly improved the general state of affairs in the camps concerned. This leaves no doubt that the objective of bettering the lives of refugees can be achieved through the cooperation of UNHCR and the private sector.