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The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established in 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees. In its 2013 mandate renewal of UNRWA, the General Assembly affirmed the importance of the provision of services for the wellbeing, protection and human development of the Palestine refugees and for the stability of the region, pending the just resolution of the question of the Palestine refugees (see Assembly resolution 68/76, para. 3).
The present evaluation assessed the relevance, effectiveness and efficiency of the promotion of a decent standard of living for Palestine refugees by UNRWA from 2010 to 2015, a period coinciding with the UNRWA medium-term strategy and the time since the previous OIOS evaluation. The human development goal of a decent standard of living was intended to unite the various departments and field offices around a shared vision for improving the lives of its target population. As UNRWA embarked on its 2016-2021 medium-term strategy, which envisions a similarly ambitious role for its protection focus, the evaluation was aimed at harnessing insights from the Agency’s previous experience to help it chart a better-informed course in the years ahead.
Since the previous OIOS evaluation, the external challenges affecting the effectiveness and efficiency of UNRWA have further intensified: a political solution to the conflict underlying Palestine refugees’ displacement seems even farther beyond reach; refugee numbers have grown rapidly while the resources have become less stable; and UNRWA human resources are no more flexible now than previously. E/AC.51/2017/3 2/38 17-00513 Despite these challenges, UNRWA has continued to provide services — both in respect of a decent standard of living and in its other main areas of intervention, such as health and education.
Evidence of the effectiveness of these services in improving lives has been elusive, however. Although UNRWA has made gains in its monitoring and evaluation function, these functions are still underemphasized as tools to help UNRWA learn and improve. In the present evaluation, household and intercept surveys were conducted to offer a glimpse of outcome-level results, but this effort does not substitute for ongoing UNRWA-led monitoring and evaluation of results.
At a fundamental strategic level, UNRWA was unsuccessful in making the human development goal of a decent standard of living a platform for uniting the Agency around a shared vision for improving the lives of Palestine refugees. First, UNRWA failed to specify how all corners of the Agency would work together towards the achievement of a decent standard of living. Second, intended reforms of the key programmatic areas responsible for the implementation of a decent standard of living were never fully realized, in contrast to other programmes. Finally, a monitoring and evaluation framework by which to assess achievement of the shared goal of a decent standard of living, including outcome-level results data, was lacking.
Many of these gaps were identified in the previous OIOS evaluation, as they represent broader organizational shortcomings that extend beyond a decent standard of living, but some recommendations were not heeded. As UNRWA pivots towards protection as a similarly ambitious goal in its 2016-2021 medium-term strategy, it risks similar challenges if it continues to ignore these gaps.
OIOS makes two important recommendations, both of which UNRWA has accepted, namely that UNRWA:
• Strengthen its accountability framework
• Identify the appropriate level of resources necessary to fully meet its 2016 - 2021 medium-term performance targets, and document and regularly communicate the effects of any funding gaps to the Advisory Commission of the Agency and other key stakeholders.