The 2019 Annual Operational Report (AOR) describes progress made by UNRWA during the period, 01 January – 31 December 2019, towards the attainment of the strategic outcomes set out in the Agency’s Medium Term Strategy 2016-21 (MTS). The AOR provides a holistic view of UNRWA operations by consolidating the 2019 Commissioner General’s Report to the General Assembly and the Agency’s annual reports with regard to the 2019 oPt Emergency Appeal and the 2019 Syria Regional Crisis Emergency Appeal. It also contains an analysis of progress achieved against programmatic and resource mobilization targets set out in the MTS common monitoring matrix and the UNRWA Resource Mobilization Strategy.
In 2019, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) maintained the delivery of human development, protection and humanitarian assistance for registered Palestine refugees. This was accomplished through a collective commitment on the part of the Agency, refugee Hosting Countries and its donors. During the reporting period, UNRWA succeeded in providing 8,723,118 million primary health care (PHC) consultations, education for 532,857 children (2018/19 academic year), social safety net assistance (including cash and food) for 254,927 individuals1, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) for 7,557 youth (2018/19 academic year) and microfinance loans for 35,576 clients.2 In addition, 3,108 shelters were rehabilitated or constructed through emergency and project-based assistance and, in accordance with Agency protection and safety standards, UNRWA either constructed, upgraded or reconstructed 12 health centres (HC) and 101 schools. Under an organizational structure that was revised in light of funding constraints, protection assistance continued to be extended across all fields of Agency operation with a notable emphasis on advocacy and further equipping UNRWA personnel to deliver practical protection outcomes for Palestine refugees.
In 2019, the provision of food assistance remained a priority for UNRWA in Gaza. With emergency funds, the Agency supported the food and nutritional needs of approximately 1,036,385 vulnerable Palestine refugees, including 16,826 female-headed households. UNRWA also provided temporary cash-for-work (CfW) opportunities for 13,572 refugees, including 5,286 women. Under the Education in Emergencies (EiE) programme, 68,007 students received additional learning support in Arabic and mathematics. Health services were maintained through 22 HCs and 11,571 children received a comprehensive medical examination. In the West Bank, emergency in-kind food assistance continued to be provided, in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), to 37,000 individuals from Bedouin and herder communities assessed to be food insecure or vulnerable to various protection threats. In addition, UNRWA distributed emergency cash assistance through the e-card modality to 25,578 abject poor refugees. Throughout the year, UNRWA also continued to monitor, document, report and provide emergency assistance to Palestine refugees impacted by protection threats in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Throughout the reporting period, UNRWA provided vital humanitarian assistance to Palestine refugees in Syria and to Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) in Lebanon and Jordan. With available resources, the Agency was able to distribute emergency cash assistance to 410,870 Palestine refugees in Syria. In May 2019, UNRWA introduced a targeted approach to the provision of cash assistance, focusing on the most vulnerable refugees who were prioritized with a higher cash transfer, while the remaining caseload continued to receive a lower emergency allowance. In-kind food assistance was also limited to the most vulnerable refugees, targeting 136,074 individuals. With emergency appeal (EA) and programme budget funding, UNRWA provided education to 50,143 Palestine refugee students in Syria; PHC was made available through 25 health facilities, including two mobile clinics. Protection services, including legal counselling and psychosocial support, continued to be provided through six family support offices. The Agency also focused efforts on the rehabilitation of its installations in newly accessible areas, ensuring that Palestine refugees spontaneously returning had safe access to humanitarian assistance and services. However, funding constraints limited the Agency’s ability to conduct all the necessary works.
In Lebanon, humanitarian support in the form of cash grants was provided for food, housing and winterization to an annual average of 27,987 PRS. During the reporting period, UNRWA continued to provide quality, inclusive and equitable education to 5,254 PRS children; PHC services through 27 HCs; and vital protection and legal aid services to 4,262 PRS. In Jordan, cash grants for basic needs were provided to 16,159 PRS. In addition, 695 extremely vulnerable PRS families were supported through one-off emergency cash grants to help them absorb shocks and respond to specific protection concerns. Medical services continued to be extended to PRS through 29 health facilities across Jordan. The Agency also continued to provide basic education to 1,167 PRS and Syrian children in Jordan enrolled in 133 UNRWA schools.
The 2018 funding crisis continued into 2019. The Agency raised US$ 1 billion across all portals during the year. For the programme budget, UNRWA received US$ 619.2 million,7 US$ 130.8 million short of total requirements and US$ 231.6 million less than in 2018. Although services were maintained and key education and health indicators largely met, certain programmatic adjustments had to be made during the year, as detailed throughout this report. The Agency was unable to lift the ceiling on its social safety net programme (SSNP), which has remained frozen since 2013, despite increasing poverty across many fields of Agency operation, whilst the proportion of classes in UNRWA schools with more than 40 pupils rose to more than 52 per cent.8 Additional measures undertaken to manage expenditure included vacancy management, delayed recruitments, a temporary increase in the age of retirement and the increased use of daily paid contracts. Expenditure on maintenance and replacement of IT equipment and vehicles was also reduced whilst, at the end of the year, a number of unfunded liabilities were carried forward into 2020.
Humanitarian operations were the hardest hit by the funding gap. UNRWA received only 34.23 per cent (US$ 94.81 million)9 of its funding requirements for the EA for the Syria regional crisis. The EA for the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) fared better, but was only 61.57 per cent funded (US$ 84.96 million).10 The Agency was forced to advance funds from its programme budget to avoid a disruption in the provision of critical services in the oPt, in particular a break in the EA food pipeline in Gaza, through which one million refugees are assisted each quarter.
In additional to financial challenges, the Agency was beset by a serious management and reputational crisis in 2019, following an investigation by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) that resulted in the departure of the Chief of Staff, Deputy Commissioner-General, and CommissionerGeneral. While reassuring that fraud or misappropriation of operational funds were not involved, the investigation highlighted certain managerial concerns. Under the leadership of the acting Commissioner-General who assumed his duties in November 2019, a series of “management initiatives” were elaborated to strengthen UNRWA management, governance and accountability.11 Advisory Commission members and Agency partners, staff and other stakeholders have been consulted on these initiatives, which will be finalised in early 2020 for realisation in accordance with an agreed, time bound strategic implementation plan.
On 13 December 2019, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted to extend the Agency’s mandate until 30 June 2023, reaffirming and commending the vital role that the Agency has played for almost seven decades in providing vital services for the well-being, human development and protection of a population of more than five million registered Palestine refugees, and in the amelioration of their plight and stability in the region, pending the just resolution of the question of the Palestine refugees.