ICAO and the World Food Programme


The World Food Programme (WFP) is the food-assistance branch of the United Nations and the world's largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security. According to the WFP, it provides food assistance to an average of 91.4 million people in 83 countries each year. From its headquarters in Rome and from more than 80 country offices around the world, the WFP works to help people who cannot produce or obtain enough food for themselves and their families. It is a member of the United Nations Development Group and part of its executive committee. WFP’s efforts focus on emergency assistance, relief and rehabilitation, development aid and special operations. Two thirds of its work is in conflict-affected countries where people are three times more likely to be undernourished than those living in countries without conflict. The WFP is headed by an Executive Director, who reports to the Director-General of FAO and the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN).


Two events during October 1960 set the stage for important developments in the use of food surpluses. The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution 1496(XV) on 27 October 1960 related to the provision of surpluses to food-deficient people through the United Nations (UN) system, and FAO was requested to draft procedures whereby this might be accomplished. The FAO Council in turn authorized the Director-General to undertake a study of the problem, and established a 13-member Intergovernmental Advisory Committee to advise him in this study. His report, entitled Development Through FoodA Strategy for Surplus Utilization, was published in March 1961.


The Intergovernmental Advisory Committee was convened by the FAO Director-General in April 1961 at Rome to consider the above-mentioned report. George McGovern played a personal and pivotal role in the establishment of the UN WFP. As the first director of John F. Kennedy's Food for Peace programme, and special assistant to the President, McGovern led a USA delegation to Rome at that time to discuss the draft report; he seized the occasion to propose the establishment of a multilateral food aid programme under the joint sponsorship of FAO and the UN, with a fund of $100 million, of which the United States was prepared to provide $40 million under that country's Public Law 480, which had been passed to provide a series of means whereby the country's growing agricultural surpluses might be managed.


Following favourable ECOSOC reaction to the report and the proposal, the Director-General of FAO and the Secretary-General of the UN were requested to work out details of the proposed programme. A working group met in FAO Headquarters in August 1961 and produced an FAO/UN Proposal Regarding Procedures and Arrangements for Multilateral Utilization of Surplus Food.


WFP Emblem

The WFP was established, on a three-year experimental basis, by concurrent resolutions of the FAO Conference (Resolution 1/61) and the UN General Assembly (Resolution 1714(XIV)), adopted respectively on 24 November and 19 December 1961, as the agency to deal with bringing emergency food relief in real time to afflicted areas. A first development programme was launched in 1963 in Sudan and the WFP formally started its work.


As crises multiply, food assistance was urgently needed and the WFP was given the mandate to supply it. Provision for its continuation as long as multilateral food aid is found feasible and desirable was made in concurrent resolutions of the FAO Conference (Resolution 4/65) and the UN General Assembly (Resolution 2095(XX)), adopted respectively on 6 and 20 December 1965; consequently, the WFP was enshrined as a fully-fledged UN programme.


The programme started its life by voluntary pledges from participating countries in the form of commodities, cash or services such as shipping. Now the WFP operations are funded by voluntary donations from world governments, corporations and private donors. The organization's administrative costs are only seven percent, one of the lowest and best among aid agencies.


Subsequent decades consolidated WFP’s role. Crises spill over the years, revealing hunger’s deadly prevalence, marking the conscience of humanity. But catastrophe spurred resourcefulness. The logistics of food aid were revolutionized. For example, during the long famines which affected the western Sahel in the 1970s, the WFP used everything in its power – from the car to the camel, from the road to the river – to assist those in need.


At the turn of the 1990s, regained freedom for many nations co-existed with hardship and fragmentation. Impoverishment formed a unifying backdrop to natural disasters, wars and the break-up of states. In WFP’s portfolio, the balance of development programmes versus emergency interventions shifted back and forth.


in accordance with ICAO Assembly resolution A29-14 regarding Humanitarian Flights (N.B. This Assembly Session was held in Montréal from 22 September to 8 October 1992), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) had been supportive of humanitarian flight operations and established strong collaboration with other UN organizations like the WFP. This collaboration involved advising and contributing to the establishment of UN policies and procedures for safe flight operations. ICAO participated in the United Nations Aviation Technical Advisory Group (UN-ATAG) and the WFP Aviation Safety Board, as well as in conferences and humanitarian aviation safety promotional activities. Deliberation at the highest levels where the WFP operated benefits both organizations. The technical assistance programmes were implemented to minimize safety risks and to implement ICAO SARPs in a practical manner to reduce operational safety risks.


When roads are impassable, or infrastructure is destroyed, the WFP turns to the skies to quickly bring humanitarian cargo and aid workers to communities in the most inaccessible places on the planet. Whether the cause is a flood or earthquake, cyclones or war, the WFP Aviation operates on the front lines of hunger.

The year 2000 brings the Millennium Development Goals, the first global blueprint for a world free from poverty, hunger and related ills. Under pressure to deliver measurable achievement, energies coalesced further. Many countries saw governance standards improve, even as others grapple with conflict and insecurity. Extreme poverty receded. Food aid gave way to food assistance, a more holistic, longer-lens approach to communities’ and societies’ nutritional needs. The provision of cash and vouchers emerged as an empowering complement to in-kind food distributions. The world’s first regular humanitarian air service, the UNHAS (United Nations Humanitarian Air Service) was created in 2003. Originally established by the WFP in the 1980s as the WFP/Air Service, to carry its food and non-food items, UNHAS is operated by the WFP and charters commercially operated aircraft, compliant with the ICAO’s Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) and the UN Aviation Standards for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Air Transport Operations (UNAVSTADS).


The WFP organizes airlifts that deploy life-saving food assistance by plane within 48 hours when situations on land render surface transport impossible. The Aviation team serves the WFP a reliable and cost-efficient means for transporting food and non-food cargo by air, services that are made available to the entire humanitarian community, including UN agencies and NGOs. When necessary, the WFP also performs airdrops by flying over designated drop zones and releasing aid cargos from high above, thereby serving remote populations through a rapid and targeted response.

The Aviation Service is fully aligned with the corporate vision to explore innovative approaches that enhance progress towards achieving Zero Hunger. While cargo delivery by air has traditionally been by manned aircraft, Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) – commonly known as drones – as a technology offer an untapped potential in cargo delivery. RPAS would also reduce the risks associated with staff security in the theatre of operation, especially in conflict areas. Always on the lookout for agile and cost-efficient solutions, WFP Aviation made significant progress in 2018, having engaged extensively with both a manufacturer and a potential operator of a RPAS capable of delivering 1.5 mt of cargo to very short airstrips. Unmanned aircraft include balloons, fully automated and/or autonomous aircraft, model aircraft, drones, and remotely piloted aircraft. As regards RPAS cargo delivery, the WFP Aviation Service works in close coordination with ICAO, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the Civil Aviation Authorities (CAAs).

In collaboration with the WFP Technology Division (TEC), the Aviation Service also supports training and other capacity building initiatives in the use of smaller drones in emergencies to ensure that staff have requisite expertise, adequate capacity and are ready for rapid deployment. These trainings also provide regulatory tools to enable scenario-based planning and safe operations, pending the finalization of the regulatory framework on RPAS and other Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) by ICAO.

Today, the WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency saving lives and changing lives. When disasters strike, it is quick off the mark and scales up in a heartbeat; when they do not, it works tirelessly to bolster nutrition and food security. Its field presence is deep; its operational understanding of food needs, unrivalled. As the world’s leading humanitarian airline, the UNHAS currently has a fleet of more than 90 chartered aircraft, ranging from large to small aircraft and fixed-wing to helicopters that are deployed to operations around the globe. Aid workers who are deep in the field, with no other means of transportation, rely on UNHAS to transport them to some of the world’s most remote and isolated communities, where commercial airlines do not fly. With air services to more than 250 regular destinations in 16 countries, UNHAS carried more than 250,000 humanitarian passengers.


In 2019, the WFP provided assistance to close to 100 million people in 88 countries who are victims of acute food insecurity and hunger. In 2020, WFP had established three global Humanitarian Air Hubs: Guangzhou in China, Liège in Belgium, and Dubai in the UAE which is the only hub that has a dual global and regional role.


The Nobel Peace Prize 2020 was awarded to the World Food Programme for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict. It was the twelfth Nobel prize for a UN organization or member. In 2020, the WFP has consistently warned of dangers of COVID-19, not just because of the health pandemic, but also the hunger pandemic as the head of the WFP called it. During the pandemic, the WFP was the biggest airline in the world when all commercial airlines were grounded; through its global common services, the WFP moved and delivered assistance to communities where people were at risk of infection and hunger.


On 1 June 2023, ICAO and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) entered a new landmark collaboration agreement today aimed at advancing civil aviation safety, efficiency, and sustainability in humanitarian operations. This strategic partnership, forged under the auspices of the ICAO Global Implementation Support Symposium took place in Seoul, Republic of Korea, and will focus on key areas of cooperation to ensure safer and more sustainable aviation operations, particularly in the context of humanitarian air services. “By combining our expertise and resources, ICAO and the WFP aim to create a safer, more efficient, and environmentally responsible aviation industry,” remarked ICAO Secretary General Juan Carlos Salazar, after signing the Memorandum of Understanding. “This partnership underscores our shared commitment to addressing the unique challenges faced in humanitarian air services.”

One of the primary objectives of this collaboration is to strengthen States' safety and security oversight capabilities, which will have the additional benefit of heightening reliability. Improving infrastructure and systems performance at aerodromes will be another focal point of this collaboration, which will help ensure smoother and more efficient operations for humanitarian activities. The collaboration also places significant emphasis on enhancing civil aviation security and facilitation capacity, particularly in small aerodromes, contributing to the safety and seamlessness of operations, even in challenging and remote environments.

Environmental sustainability is also a key focus, with a view to decarbonizing air operations through the adoption of advanced technologies, the implementation of operational improvements, and the exploration cleaner energy sources.


Myanmar – World Food Day - 1984

During the war, in 1943, United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt called a United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture, which brought representatives from forty-four governments to Hot Springs, Virginia, USA from 18 May to 3 June. The Conference ended with a commitment to establish a permanent organization for food and agriculture. On the invitation of the United Nations Interim Commission on Food and Agriculture and through the hospitality extended by the Government of Canada, representatives of the United Nations met at the Château Frontenac, Québec City on 16 October 1945 to sign the Constitution of the FAO and to hold the First Session of its Conference which ended on 1 November 1945. World Food Day (WFD) was established by FAO's Member Countries at the Organization's 20th General Conference in November 1979 to increase awareness of world hunger and poverty and to inspire solutions for world change; it is celebrated every year worldwide on 16 October and commemorates the date of the founding of the FAO on 16 October 1945. The Hungarian Delegation, led by the former Hungarian Minister of Agriculture and Food Dr. Pál Romány, played an active role at that FAO Conference and suggested the idea of celebrating the WFD worldwide. Since 1981, World Food Day has adopted a different theme each year to highlight areas needed for action and provide a common focus.


On 19 August 2003, a bomb attack on the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq, killed 22 humanitarian aid workers, including the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted in its Plenary Session on 11 December 2008, the Swedish sponsored Omnibus Resolution on “Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Humanitarian Assistance of the United Nations”, which carried the historic decision by the world body, to designate on 19 August as World Humanitarian Day (WHD) to honour all humanitarian and the United Nations and associated personnel who have lost their lives in the cause of duty and those who have worked in the promotion of the humanitarian cause. The digital art tells the stories of people in need and those who help them; the beautifully illustrated aid worker profiles show the breadth and depth of humanitarian work and collectively symbolize the wider humanitarian village.

Each year, WHD focuses on a theme, bringing together partners from across the humanitarian system to advocate for the survival, well-being and dignity of people affected by crises, and for the safety and security of aid workers. On 19 August 2022, the UN Postal Administration (UNPA) issued three stamp sheets for the World Humanitarian Day, featuring beautiful artwork by award-winning illustrator Olga Shtonda from Kharkiv in Ukraine. Olga studied Graphic Arts at Kharkiv Design and Arts Academy and has received awards at many international illustration competitions; in 2019, she won the Ars in Fabula Grant Award which gave her the opportunity to study in Italy and get the master’s degree in editorial illustration.


Set of three stamps issued on 19 August 2022 to celebrate the World Humanitarian Day (WHD).


The anniversaries of the creation of the WFP could be based on the years: 1961, 1963, or 1965, as it can be seen by the following items.



World Food Programme – 10th anniversary commemorated by the United Nations on 13 April 1973.


Service cover issued by the Technical Assistance Project in Yemen and sent to ICAO Headquarters.

The slogan commemorates the 10th anniversary of the WFP (1963-1973).


Yemen – Commercial cover sent to ICAO. Postmark dated 18 November 1975.

The stamp commemorates the 10th anniversary of the WFP programme (1965-1975),

with text: 10 ans au service du progrès. Embossed sender’s address.


World Food Programme – 20th anniversary commemorated by the United Nations.


First Day Cover issued by Spain on 21 March 2017 for the ninth annual Global Humanitarian

Aviation Conference & Exhibition (GHAC) held in Lisbon, Portugal from 11 to 13 October 2017.

Ilyushin IL-76T of the UN WFP dropping emergency cargo by parachutes and Beechcraft 1900 (in black, in the background). The stamp shows an airplane with wheat ear and corn cob as a propeller wing, dried soil.

Through various platforms such as the GHAC and Air Shows, the WFP Aviation seeks to strengthen humanitarian aviation and keep abreast of new technologies and best practices. Participants included commercial and humanitarian air operators from around the world, regulatory institutions, civil aviation representatives and other key stakeholders in aviation.



Commemorative bronze plaque installed on the outside wall of the Château Frontenac (Québec City, Canada; upper picture) marking the founding in 1945 of the United Nations Food and Agriculture (FAO).

The lower plaque commemorates the 50th anniversary of FAO founding, when 171 FAO Members gathered at the Château Frontenac on World Food Day on 16 October 1995.



On 10 October 1995, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of FAO, a public square was inaugurated in Québec City by Jacques Parizeau, Prime Minister of Québec, and Lucien L’Allier, mayor of Québec City.