A predecessor of the United Nations turns 80

Image of San Marino stamp celebrating UNRRA image of UNRRA Staff Image of a newsletter from an UNRRA Displaced Persons Camp An image of newsletter from an UNRRA Displaced Persons Camp


November 2023 marks the 80th Anniversary of the creation of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), a predecessor organization of the United Nations.

This international organization, which had at its heart the delivery of aid and relief, was established on 9 November 1943, when 44 nations (later increased to 48) signed an agreement in the United States.

During its brief existence, from 1943 to 1948, UNRRA was active in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Asia. In the aftermath of the Second World War, it repatriated over 7 million displaced persons; provided education and training; and delivered millions of tons of food, fuel, clothing, medicine, and other necessities.

For much of 1946, UNRRA was the largest single exporter in the world, with more than one million gross tons shipped each month. Among its more unique deliveries, UNRRA shipped thousands of animals to Europe and Asia to rebuild their agricultural sectors.

To do so, 71 ships were converted specifically for that purpose. Transportation of trains required additional specialized vessels. One such ship carried 48 completely erected locomotives and 48 tenders in a single UNRRA chartered voyage.

One of the other major endeavours of UNRRA was to revise and administer two conventions: the International Sanitary Convention and the International Sanitary Convention for Aerial Navigation. Both came into force in January 1945.

UNRRA was able to successfully complete this task and ensure that there were no major outbreaks of diseases in the post-war period. In 1948, the World Health Organization (WHO) was created, and it absorbed the health functions of UNRRA.

At its height, approximately 25,000 staff worked for UNRRA, some of whom found work in the newly created United Nations and contributed to the Organization in its early days. For instance, Abraham Feller, the Chief Legal Counsel under the first Secretary-General, Trygve Lie, was an early UNRRA employee.

As UNRRA was liquidating, its work was taken up by, among others, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Refugee Agency, and WHO, which continue the task UNRRA began 80 years ago.




Originally published in UN Intranet (iSeek)
21 November 2023