United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
Q1. How have the COVID-19 pandemic and the current food, energy and financing crises changed the priorities of your organization?
Since its inception in 1949, UNRWA has continually adapted its operational priorities to both unique and recurrent crises that have afflicted Palestine refugees and the host countries in which they reside. Recent years have proved no exception. The current food, energy and financial crises, and the COVID-19 pandemic have compounded the ongoing effects on Palestine refugees of: (i) the blockade in Gaza; (ii) the conflict in Syria; (iii) the occupation of the West Bank; and (iv) civil unrest in Lebanon. All Agency fields of operation are highly dependent on imports of basic food commodities and fuel, which makes them acutely susceptible to global price fluctuations. In particular, increasing food costs have led to a higher share of Palestine refugees’ disposable income being spent on food, reaching (in 2022) 49 per cent in Syria, 39 per cent in Lebanon and 32 per cent in Gaza.
In response to these crises, UNRWA has adapted its priorities to accelerate:
- The modernization of its services. Digitalization, as one dimension of modernization, has been prioritized as it offers greater access to and continuity of Agency services in times of crisis, and decreases the cost for Palestine refugees to access those services. Initiatives taken in this regard include: (i) in 2020, the introduction of an e-registration platform that allows Palestine refugees to register from anywhere, ensuring that the right to register and the ability to change registration records is preserved, irrespective of refugees’ access to UNRWA registration offices; and (ii) in 2022, the launch of the three-year Agency Information and Communications Technology for Education (ICT4E) Strategy, which serves as a road map for how information and communication technology (ICT) can better serve students, Agency education staff and system management, especially during times of emergency;
- The recalibration of UNRWA support for Palestine refugee livelihoods. In this regard, the Agency’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training Programme (TVET), with a student enrolment body of approximately 8,000 students, is in the process of strengthening labour market linkages and, since 2021, has introduced over 30 new courses to upskill refugee youth in the fields of digital technology, including digital marketing, graphic design, solar energy systems, smartphone repair and the maintenance of hybrid / electrical vehicles. In the longer-term, the Agency’s ICT4E Strategy foresees a greater emphasis on ICT skills learning for the approximately 545,000 students enrolled in UNRWA schools. The Agency is also exploring with partners how livelihood opportunities can be expanded in a sustainable and cost-efficient manner; and
- The reform of UNRWA’s social transfers. In light of increasing poverty rates, the Agency has introduced basic universal assistance to all registered Palestine refugees in Syria and Gaza, with additional top-up payments to the most vulnerable, and is exploring the possibility of expanding universal assistance to Lebanon. In 2021, biannual high frequency crisis monitoring surveys were also introduced Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, the fields most vulnerable to the effects of increased energy and food costs, to track household consumption and expenditure patterns and inform UNRWA’s ongoing response to the current crises.
Q2. How has your organization supported Member States to accelerate their recovery from COVID-19 and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda? How has your organization cooperated with other UN system organizations in these efforts to achieve coherence and synergies?
Given the Agency’s specific mandate and remit to deliver services directly to Palestine refugees, UNRWA does not provide direct support to Member States.
Q3. Has your organization published or is it planning to publish any analytical work or guidance note or toolkits to guide and support recovery efforts from COVID-19 while advancing full implementation of SDGs at national, regional and global levels?
Due to capacity limitations, UNRWA has not been able to develop and publish analytical work, guidance or toolkits to support recovery efforts from COVID-19.
Q4. How has your organization engaged with stakeholder groups to support SDG implementation and COVID-19 recovery at national, regional and global levels? Please provide main highlights, including any lessons learned. For example, what has worked particularly well as a model for effective stakeholder engagement?
Partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders have been a part of UNRWA’s operations since the Agency was first established and are strongly encouraged by the UN General Assembly’s most recent resolution on UNRWA (A/RES/76/78).
The Agency’s most important stakeholder to support SDG implementation and COVID-19 recovery remains the 5.8 million Palestine refugees UNRWA serves, engagement with whom is grounded in the unique platforms provided by: (i) an Agency workforce of just over 28,000 staff, the vast majority of whom are engaged in the direct delivery of assistance, of which, approximately 89 per cent are drawn from the Palestine refugee community they serve; (ii) an extensive network of area offices, camp service offices, schools, health centres and other installations; and (iii) established partnerships with camp communities. UNRWA uses these platforms on a daily basis to support the implementation of the SDGs and COVID-19 recovery plans within the Palestine refugee community, through the direct provision of health (SDG 3), basic education (SDG 4), relief (SDGs 1 and 2), environmental health (SDG 6), microfinance (SDG 8), camp improvement (SDG 11) and protection (SDGs 5, 10 and 16) services.
Engagement with other UN entities also plays a prominent role in furthering SDG implementation and recovery from COVID-19. In support of the implementation of SDGs 3 and 4, the Agency maintains long-standing partnerships with the World Health Organization and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, both of whom provide strategic and technical expertise, including on health response and learning recovery, to UNRWA’s health and education programmes, respectively. Important engagement is also maintained with the United Nations Population Fund on reproductive health (SDGs 3 and 5), the World Food Programme on food and cash assistance and nutritional guidance in Lebanon and Palestine (SDGs 1 and 2) and with the United Nations Children’s Fund on child, youth and adolescent programming (SDGs 4 and 10).
Furthermore, partnerships with non-governmental organizations support the extension of legal assistance (SDG 16), vocational education (SDG 4) and psychosocial support (SDG 3) to women and youth as well as special education services to Palestine refugees with disabilities (SDG 10).
Q5. In the 2019 SDG Summit declaration (GA Resolution 74/4), Member States outlined ten priority areas for accelerated action in SDG implementation. Please highlight any major integrated and innovative policies or initiatives that your organization may have adopted in these ten priority areas:
5.1 leaving no one behind
UNRWA’s new Strategic Plan 2023-28 places the commitment to leave no one behind at the centre of the Agency’s operations. The Strategic Plan affirms that the Agency will enhance its efforts to systematically mainstream cross-cutting protection issues that contribute to risk and vulnerability, including gender, disability and age, across all its systems, processes, methodologies, programming and service delivery.
In this respect, UNRWA has committed to:
(i) improve and harmonize the collection, intersectional analysis and use of data to monitor access, identify risk, strengthen understanding of vulnerabilities and inform programming;
(ii) enhance the meaningful engagement of typically marginalized groups to capture their interests and barriers;
(iii) establish clear mechanisms for accountability to affected populations; and
(iv) establish and operationalize safe internal and external referral pathways.
The Strategic Plan 2023-28 also commits to the continuation of UNRWA’s inclusive approach to education to ensure that all Palestine refugee children, regardless of their gender, abilities, disabilities, social-economic status, health and psychosocial needs have equal opportunity to learn in the Agency’s 702 schools and are supported to reach their full potential. Supplementing the inclusive education approach and as noted above, in 2022, UNRWA launched its ICT4E Strategy.
The Strategy seeks to strengthen learning, teaching and student support and management:
(i) by improving access to devices and internet connectivity for students, teachers and education managers;
(ii) through the creation of online curriculum, learning and communication platforms; and
(iii) by building the capacity for learning, teaching and education management in the field of educational technology.
The ICT4E Strategy will particularly benefit students from the poorest Palestine refugee households who would otherwise not be able to afford the internet connection or hardware required to access remote learning during crises.
Furthermore, the Strategic Plan 2023-28 reaffirms the Agency’s commitment to focus its livelihood programming on the most vulnerable. Through its network of eight vocational training centres, which provide free-of-charge TVET, UNRWA will continue to proactively attract students from the poorest households, equipping them with the ability to lift their families out of poverty.
In addition, through its microfinance programme, the Agency will continue to provide Palestine refugees and other marginal groups with livelihood improvement opportunities that contribute to better living conditions through consumer and housing loans.
These products will continue to be available to low-income households, who would otherwise have no access to credit facilities, to help pay for education and/or healthcare expenses that would ordinarily be beyond their reach.
UNRWA will also continue to provide employment opportunities through the creation of jobs linked to the Agency’s construction and shelter rehabilitation works. These positions target Palestine refugees in camps, particularly in Gaza and Lebanon, which suffer from extremely high levels of joblessness, especially amongst women and youth.
5.2 mobilizing adequate and well-directed financing
Given the Agency’s specific mandate and remit to deliver services directly to Palestine refugees, UNRWA does not provide direct financing to or seeks to mobilize financing for Member States for the implementation of the SDGs.
5.3 enhancing national implementation
Given the Agency’s specific mandate and remit, UNRWA cooperates with host governments in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria to further the implementation of the SDGs for the benefit of Palestine refugees. However, the Agency does not provide direct support to host governments in the national implementation of the SDGs.
5.4 strengthening institutions for more integrated solutions
Given the Agency’s specific mandate and remit to deliver services directly to Palestine refugees, UNRWA does not provide capacity strengthening support to national institutions for the implementation of the SDGs.
5.5 bolstering local action
The 58 official camps where many of the 5.8 million registered Palestine refugees reside in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank have grown from temporary “tent cities” into highly congested spaces characterized by improvised construction, extreme overcrowding and strained water and sanitation infrastructure. UNRWA seeks to alleviate these issues by facilitating the development and implementation of integrated and comprehensive Camp Improvement Plans in full partnership with camp communities, who lead on the process and decide on their key needs and priorities for the improvement of their own camp. The objective of this participatory approach is to empower camp communities, through technical advice and training, to actively shape and improve their urban built environment to live with dignity in better physical surroundings with improved socioeconomic, environmental infrastructure and environmental health in the camps. In addition, the Agency supports the rehabilitation of substandard shelters through a self-help approach, whereby the families whose shelters are being rehabilitated manage the works, with the Agency’s technical support and supervision. Bolstering local action is also supported under accountability to affected populations that forms a cornerstone of quality UNRWA service provision to meet changing Palestine refugee needs and deliver more sustainable development outcomes. To this end, a number of formal and informal mechanisms, standards and practices are in place to ensure the meaningful participation of Palestine refugees at various stages in the programme management cycle. To further empower Palestine refugee participation in support of enhanced Agency accountability, UNRWA is committed to the further development and use of structures and processes that facilitate: (i) information gathering and sharing, consultation and the participation of the most vulnerable to ensure that UNRWA is responsive to all Palestine refugee needs; (ii) safeguarding, including in relation to the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse; (iii) the delivery of UNRWA programming in accordance with humanitarian principles; and (iv) the systematic engagement of Palestine refugee communities at set points during the annual programme management cycle and as part of any change management processes.
5.6 reducing disaster risk and building resilience
Since its establishment, UNRWA has always taken action to mitigate the effects of disasters and emergencies on the lives of Palestine refugees. The operational context in which the Agency works is challenging, ranging from relative stability in some host countries to more complex environments, including armed conflict and repeated cycle of hostilities in Gaza and Syria, the socio-economic crisis in Lebanon and a protracted protection crisis in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Over the past two years, vulnerabilities have increased due to the overlapping impacts of the current economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although UNRWA’s emergency response does not attempt to reduce the likelihood of a disaster occurring, it: (i) does mitigate the impact of those disasters by ensuring that Palestine refugees’ basic needs of food, shelter, protection and healthcare are covered in times of emergency. In August 2022, the Agency updated its Emergency Management Framework to enhance its readiness, capacity and operational capabilities to respond to emergencies effectively and efficiently; and (ii) is supported under strengthened approach to enterprise risk management. Over the course of multiple crises in recent years, UNRWA’s health and education systems, which serve approximately 1.9 million and 545,000 Palestine refugees, respectively, have proved to be resilient and able to rapidly adapt to crisis conditions, including through the utilization of dedicated Emergency Health and Education-in-Emergencies programmes.
5.7 solving challenges through international cooperation and enhancing the global partnership
UNRWA has not elaborated major integrated and innovative policies or initiatives that seek to solving challenges through international cooperation and enhancing the global partnerships; however, as referenced above, the Agency benefits from a broad range of partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders in support of addressing the needs of Palestine refugees.
5.8 harnessing science, technology and innovation with a greater focus on digital transformation for sustainable development
In the coming strategic period governed under the UNRWA Strategic Plan 2023-28, the Agency seeks to further modernize its services and operations to ensure it is equipped to meet the evolving needs of refugees and Member State expectations, effectively and efficiently. In part, this will be achieved through digital solutions that will be used – where appropriate, for reasons of economy, efficiency, effectiveness and equity – to maintain Palestine refugee access to quality services and ensure that young people in particular acquire the skills they need to participate in modern societies and economies. For example:
(1) UNRWA will continue to develop its Information Technology Service Centre (ITSC), based in Gaza. Established in 2020, in partnership with the United Nations International Computing Centre, the ITSC provides efficient information technology solutions across the Agency’s five fields of operations, and to United Nations agencies worldwide, including web and mobile application development, software quality assurance, user interface / user experience design, cyber security, cloud computing, data science, project management and service desk functions. In doing so, it contributes to UNRWA’s aims to empower the digital generation of Palestine refugees and generate livelihood opportunities. In this regard, since its establishment, the ITSC has grown from a staff of six to now employing 120 skilled, educated and passionate information technology graduates, making it the largest information technology employer in Gaza;
(2) As noted above, in 2022, UNRWA launched its ICT4E Strategy, which will transform the digital access to UNRWA education services, including in times of emergency. The ICT4E strategy built on the lessons drawn from the April 2021 introduction of the UNRWA-wide Digital Learning Platform (DLP). The DLP acts as a content-repository, enabling students, parents and Agency education staff to view and download self-learning materials at any time. In 2023, the DLP will be transformed into a more comprehensive interactive Learning Management System (LMS) which will support a virtual learning environment that facilitates: (i) safe, two-way communication between students, teachers, and Agency education staff; (ii) the tracking of student engagement and progress; (iii) online student assessment; and (iv) enhanced remote and in-school learning. The system will be based on Microsoft Teams and the use of this software will enable the collection of data on online learning assessments, student engagement and other key indicators; and
(3) As part of the Agency’s drive to enhance care for new and expectant mothers and non-communicable disease patients, UNRWA has introduced mobile applications on maternal and child health (e-MCH) and NCDs (e-NCD), both of which can be easily downloaded to mobile phones. These applications, linked to the UNRWA e-Health management information system, allow patients to retrieve their own medical records, instantly access health advice and receive reminders of upcoming appointments. Both applications have proven effective in improving medical staff / patient interactions while reducing the number of phone inquiries and in-person visits to health centres. Since its 2019 introduction, e-MCH has been downloaded by 214,131 users while e-NCD, launched in 2020, has been downloaded by 92,668 users.
5.9 investing in data and statistics for the SDGs
UNRWA invests in the development of data and statistics in support of SDG realisation. Notable examples in this regard include the following:
(1) SDG 3: Introduced as part of a comprehensive strategic reform of the Agency’s health programme, e-Health is a patient-centred, cloud-based application that allows UNRWA to generate electronic medical records. Through e-Health, Agency health centre staff are able to easily collect, store, access, communicate and compare patient data, facilitating longer doctor / patient consultations and reduced waiting times. This has enabled health staff to provide more accurate medical advice based on patient medical histories that can be easily retrieved. The system also facilitates evidence-based decision-making, planning and reporting capabilities through the automatic generation of data-driven reports. In this regard, e-Health includes modules on outpatient services, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), maternal and child health, dental care, laboratory testing, pharmacy as well as outpatient and other specialist care (ophthalmology, cardiology and gynecology). As of November 2022, e-Health is operational in 139 of the Agency’s 140 health centres and stores the medical records of four million patients; and
(2) SDG 4: In 2011, UNRWA launched a major five-year reform of its basic education system, designed to ensure that students developed the skills necessary to achieve their full potential and contribute positively to the development of their society and the global community. Integral to the education reform has been evidence-based policy, planning and decision making at all levels of the education system. To this end, during the 2016/17 academic year, UNRWA launched an Agency-wide Education Management Information System (EMIS), which consists of:(i) a student module that includes data on student registration, achievements, health records and behaviour, and class formation; and (ii) a staff module, introduced during the 2019/20 academic year, which includes data on employee registration, staff transfers, promotions, terminations, duties, attendance, leave, performance and in-service training. During the 2022/23 academic year, a school premises module and a portal for parents will also be introduced. EMIS modules are linked with other UNRWA systems, including the Electronic Student Registration System, e-Health and the Refugee Registration and Information System. The interconnection between systems allows for advanced analysis to support education decision-making and planning processes. The reports generated from EMIS have strengthened the Agency’s capacity to identify trends in relation to key indicators on access, quality, inclusiveness, and overall efficiency of the UNRWA education system, take action to address risks and emerging challenges in the aforementioned areas, and plan the allocation of Agency resources with greater efficiency.
5.10 strengthening the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF)
Nothing to report.
Q6. Following the adoption of the 2022 Ministerial Declaration, please highlight any major integrated and innovative policies or initiatives that your organization may have adopted related to the below, if applicable:
6.1 Member States encouraged "the United Nations system and all relevant actors to take advantage of emerging technologies and their applications, as appropriate, in order to maximize impact and effectiveness in data analysis and collection and stress the need to bridge the digital gap among and within countries" (Paragraph 86)
UNRWA launched its first Results Based Monitoring (RBM) system in 2010, to strengthen and systematize monitoring and reporting capacities as part of a wider effort to improve programme cycle management within the Agency. The system hosts the results framework attached to the Medium Term Strategy (MTS) 2016-22 as well as monitoring structures for emergency appeals and other results frameworks that include audit, evaluation and UN Joint Inspection Unit recommendation action tracking. It includes baselines, targets and results for MTS outcomes and outputs. Data is collected and analysed on a quarterly, biannual, annual or triennial basis (depending on the specified frequency of data collection). The 2019 final report of the of Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN) assessment of UNRWA found the Agency’s results based monitoring system to be a major strength, enriching the overall approach to results monitoring and reporting. In this regard, UNRWA interventions generate rich levels of information, and good quality and useful data for internal and external stakeholders. With additional resources for analysis, research and internal data system interoperability, the potential value of data generated through the RBM system could be far greater. However, the Agency’s current resource constraints limit the opportunities in this area.
6.2 Member States specifically called upon the UN system "to work with the newly established United Nations Food Systems Coordination Hub, hosted by FAO, to support Governments to develop and strengthen SDG-based national pathways for sustainable food systems transformation" (Paragraph 128)
UNRWA has not adopted any major policies or initiatives in relation to the newly established United Nations Food Systems Coordination Hub.
Q7. The 2023 SDG Summit is expected to provide political leadership, guidance and recommendations for sustainable development and follow-up and review progress in the implementation of sustainable development commitments and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, including through national and regional consultations, which will mark the beginning of a new phase of accelerated progress towards the SDGs. In the lead up to the 2023 SDG Summit, please provide your organization’s recommendations on how to overcome challenges to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the achievement of the SDGs, taking into account the thematic reviews and voluntary national reviews conducted to date.
UNRWA is committed to contributing to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. Like the SDGs, both the Agency’s current MTS 2016-22 and its successor Strategic Plan 2023-28 recognize that advancing human development for Palestine refugees requires a multidimensional approach involving poverty alleviation, respect for human rights, access to quality health and educational services and reductions in inequality and economic growth.
As regards recommendations to overcome challenges to implementing Agenda 2030 globally, UNRWA recommends that consideration be given to the following:
- Within UNRWA’s Fields of operation, the biggest single obstacle to development progress is the lack of political agreement (and at times actual armed conflict) that divides the relevant governments and other political actors. While the respective governments have reached consensus on Agenda 2030 they are far from consensus and solutions on other issues that, while separate from Agenda 2030, are nevertheless absolutely essential to the Agenda’s successful implementation. UNRWA believes that a similar dynamic confronts the UN in many other contexts. Therefore, to the extent possible, UNRWA recommends that plans to support Agenda 2030 implementation also include elements to address at least some of the parallel political challenges. In this way, Agenda 2030 could potentially help resolve some long-standing political and conflict challenges. In contrast, if Agenda 2030’s achievement is more actively and deliberately pursued by the UN as a primarily development-only track it risks being held hostage for decades to come to obstacles beyond the scope of UN action. Member State resourcing for the fulfilment of the SDGs remains essential. In addition, their engagement in resolving the driving factors that prevent the fulfillment of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda is equally important; and
- A greater drive to develop, strengthen and diversify partnerships in support of SDG realization, including mechanisms whereby data, ideas, strategies and lessons learned between UN and non-UN entities can be shared.