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Oil company helps make Syrian roads safer

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

An unusual provider is helping to improve driving conditions and road safety in Syria. Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil company, gives lessons to bus drivers and road-safety talks to children and local communities across the country.

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The initiatives, which started in 2007, have focused on the oil-rich eastern areas close to Shell’s sites, where many Bedouin families live and road conditions are most dangerous. Herds of sheep and a lack of road markings are frequent hazards. Driving schools are rare.

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“The idea is to make the roads safer for both local people and our staff,” says Saeed Hanna, health and safety manager at Shell Syria. Mr. Hanna says road conditions were a leading risk for the company across the Middle East.

Demand has been high and the impact is being seen. More than 300 bus drivers were trained during a course of 11 sessions, and many schools and groups have requested lectures. Following talks, people have cleaned out seat belts formerly immobilized by sand and driving has improved, says Hanna.

Syria has the 29th highest number of road traffic fatalities in the world, with 32.9 deaths per 100,000, according to World Health Organization figures from 2009. The Syrian government recently enacted a new law banning talking on a mobile phone while driving and making seat belts compulsory.