Rising world oil prices are having a devastating effect on the United Nations refugee agency's fuel budget for more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees in camps in eastern Nepal, who rely on kerosene cooking and lighting, with more than half a million dollars in extra funds approved on Thursday to make up the shortfall.
“We were alarmed at the prospect of having to reduce fuel rations for the refugees because there is already a huge amount of frustration in the camps and any reduction in fuel rations would have affected their daily lives,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Asia Pacific Bureau director, Janet Lim, said.
In Nepal, there has been a 61 per cent increase in fuel prices since January and further increases are expected.
“The main cooking and lighting fuel for the 105,000 Bhutanese refugees in the seven camps is kerosene,” Ms. Lim said. “It's always been a major part of our total assistance budget for the refugees – just under 50 per cent. But the oil price hikes over the last few months have really hit us hard, and we had to ask for about $675,000 more than was planned for 2005.”
UNHCR has already been exploring alternative, more sustainable fuel sources, in particular carbon briquettes. The current rise in oil prices will only add urgency to the search for viable fuel alternatives.
“UNHCR never has enough funding. And these continuing hikes in oil prices are not going to go away,” Ms. Lim said. “Even if we have succeeded this time in getting the extra money we need for the Bhutanese refugees up until the end of the year, we are still going to face the same problem next year.”
The refugees, of Nepalese ethnic origin, sought refuge 15 years ago after being evicted from Bhutan. After years of fruitless bilateral negotiations between Nepal and Bhutan on repatriation, tension is now rising in the refugee camps as prospects for return and any kind of normal future are fading.