Important UN Programmes and Funds

By | January 16, 2021
Important UN Programmes and Funds

This article deals with important UN Programmes and Funds. The United Nations is a sprawling bureaucracy of its own. With five functional principal organs and myriad “specialised agencies,” the UN is vast in size.

The United Nations System, as it is dubbed, or more informally, the United Nations Family also includes several intergovernmental funds and programmes. These programmes are widely regarded and have helped millions of people by securing for them food, residence, safety, and dignity of life.

While there are some valid criticisms as to their functioning, no one can deny that the UN’s programmes and funds have been a force for good in the world. Here is a list of them along with brief descriptions.


The United Nations System includes within its fold numerous programmes and funds. These are dedicated to sustainable development, protecting the environment, eradicating discrimination, and providing assistance to refugees.

These programmes and funds are relatively autonomous and have their own membership, leadership, and budgets. With many of these agencies and funds, their budgets are funded mostly through voluntary donations.

These agencies do not operate in silos in countries they are despatched to. Rather, they work in coöperation with the host countries, providing advice and aid to the governments of those countries.

These UN entities are generally accountable to the General Assembly.

List of major UN Programmes & Funds

Sr. No. Name of Programme/Fund Headquarters Year
1. United Nations Development Programme | UNDP New York, U.S. 1965
2. United Nations Children’s Fund | UNICEF New York, U.S. 1946
3. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees | UNHCR Geneva, Switzerland 1950
4. World Food Programme | WFP Rome, Italy 1961
5. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime | UNODC Vienna, Austria 1997
6. United Nations Population Fund | UNFPA New York, U.S. 1969
7. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development | UNCTAD Geneva, Switzerland 1964
8. United Nations Environment Programme | UNEP Nairobi, Kenya 1972
9. United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees | UNRWA Amman, Jordan 1949
10. UN Women New York, U.S. 2010–2011
11. United Nations Human Settlement Programme Nairobi, Kenya 1978

*It was formerly known as the United Nations Fund for Population Activities and retains its old abbreviation.

  1. United Nations Development Programme

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works with over 170 countries and territories in eradicating poverty, reducing inequality, and protecting the planet.

The UNDP is deeply synchronised with the rest of the UN system. The UNDP Administrator is the Vice-Chair of the U.N. Sustainable Development Group.

The UNDP also administers the UN Capital Development Fund and UN Volunteers.[1]

  1. United Nations Children’s Fund

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F.) was initially founded after World War II to provide assistance to children in war-ravaged countries.

However, soon after, the U.N. General Assembly indefinitely extended the Fund’s mandate, charging it with providing programmes benefitting children everywhere, particularly in the Global South.

Thus, U.N.I.C.E.F. undertakes programmes in various fields, including health, education, the environment, and gender issues.[2]

  1. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (U.N.H.C.R.) was established in 1950 after World War II. Like U.N.I.C.E.F., it was initially limited in its scope, designated with helping European refugees.

However, its mandate was extended and expanded, and today it works with refugees across the world.

Notably, the U.N.H.C.R. won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954 for its work with European refugees.[3]

  1. World Food Programme

The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation that primarily engages in providing emergency food assistance and improving nutrition levels in impoverished communities.

In 2019, WFP provided food-related relief to 97 million people in 88 countries.

The World Food Programme was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020.[4]

  1. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime—shortened to UNODC—is a UN office that helps member states combat drugs, organised crime, corruption, and terrorism.

The UNODC was established in 1997 by combining the United Nations International Drug Control Program and the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division.

The UNODC like other UN offices and programmes helps states fulfil the 2030 Agenda for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.[5]

  1. United Nations Population Fund

UNFPA is the U.N.’s sexual and reproductive health agency. UNFPA’s mission is “to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”

UNFPA is the world’s largest multilateral source of funding for population and reproductive health programmes.[7]

UNFPA works to deliver affordable reproductive healthcare for women, prevent gender-based violence, end child marriage, and provide safe conditions for childbirth.[8]

  1. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, simply known as UNCTAD, is an organ of the General Assembly which deals with economic and sustainable development issues.

Its membership comprises 194 member states.

UNCTAD focusses on global trade, finance, investment, and technology to bring about global development.[9]

  1. United Nations Environment Programme

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been described as “the voice for the environment within the United Nations system.”

The UNEP plays an authoritative role in setting the global environmental agenda. It is a strong advocate for the global environment.[10]

  1. United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees—shortened to just UNRWA —was set up in the aftermath of the creation of the State of Israel on Palestinian territory which displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

The UNRWA, uniquely, is the only U.N. agency devoted to one group of refugees.

The Agency provides education, health, and social services, along with financial aid, to the refugees.[11]

  1. UN Women

UN Women is dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. It was established relatively recently—in 2010 and becoming operational in 2011—combining four previously distinct parts of the U.N. System.

UN Women works in ensuring economic empowerment, peace and security, ending violence against women, and preventing HIV and AIDS.[12]

  1. UN-Habitat

UN-Habitat’s mission is “to promote socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements development and the achievement of adequate shelter for all.”

UN-Habitat works towards reducing discrimination, inequality, and infrastructural issues through sustainable and eco-conscious urbanisation.[13]


[1] About us. UNDP. Available here.

[2] United Nations Children’s Fund. UNSCEB. Available here.

[3] History of UNHCR. UNHCR. Available here.

[4] Overview. WFP. Available here.

[5] About UNODC. UNODC. Available here.

[6] About us. UNFPA. Available here.

[7] “Integrated Universal Access to Reproductive Health into World Development Strategies, Strengthen Links Between HIV/AIDS and Reproductive Health, UN Members Stress.” UNFPA. Available here.

[8] About us. UNFPA. Available here.

[9] “UNCTAD at a glance.” UNCTAD. Available here.

[10] “Why does the UN Environment Programme matter?” UNEP. Available here.

[11] Who We Are. UNRWA. Available here.

[12] About UN Women. UN Women. Available here.

[13] Learn more about us. UN-Habitat. Available here.

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