Humanitarian Aid

Stories from the UN Archive: UN camel caravans deliver

Camels, long known as the ships of the desert, have played an important role helping the UN from as early as the 1940s in driving up global vaccination rates and delivering lifesaving aid.

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To mark the International Year of Camelids in 2024 and on the heels of World Immunisation Week, celebrated annually in the last week of April, we took a look at how caravans of these hardy dromedaries played a key role.

From transporting peacekeepers to polio vaccines, camels have helped the UN in its broad range of mandates since the 1940s.

The UN health agency, WHO, routinely used camels in the 1950s to bring lifesaving vaccines into remote areas in countries around the world.

In 1998, wending their way across desert terrain to reach nomadic communities scattered throughout Djibouti, teams of camels delivered vaccines and a UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) immunisation team into hard-to-reach areas.

Some communities who fled conflict in the country were living in remote areas, and camels were the “perfect choice” and the only way to reach them, according to UNICEF.

Because vaccines need to be kept at cool temperatures, doses were first loaded into refrigerators powered by solar panels, and then the whole rig was strapped onto a camel’s back.

Into the 21st century, the hearty beasts continue to help.

More recently, another UNICEF initiative saw a mobile school on camels reaching 4,000 children in nomadic communities in Sudan.

Even today, camels deliver.

Camel ambulances are helping pregnant women gain access to skilled birth attendants in remote parts of Yemen. Read the full story from the UN agency for reproductive health and rights, UNFPA, here.

Our #ThrowbackThursday series showcases epic moments across UN history, cultivated from the UN Audiovisual Library’s 49,400 hours of video and 18,000 hours of audio recordings.

Catch up on our series here and UN Video’s Stories from the UN Archive playlist here. Join us next Thursday for another dive into history.

© UNFPA Yemen/Sadam Alolof

With few roads among the mountain villages in Yemen, the only way for many people to reach the hospital is by camel or on foot.



  1. Camels have truly been unsung heroes in delivering aid and vaccines for decades. It’s fascinating to see the vital role they have played in reaching remote communities and driving up global vaccination rates. Kudos to these incredible creatures and the UN for utilizing their unique capabilities!

  2. Camels have truly been unsung heroes in the UN’s efforts to increase global vaccination rates and deliver lifesaving aid. From the 1940s onwards, these majestic animals have played a crucial role in reaching remote communities and providing essential healthcare services. It’s inspiring to see their continued contribution to humanitarian efforts around the world.

  3. In my opinion, the use of camels by the UN to deliver vaccines is truly remarkable and shows the innovative ways in which humanitarian aid can be provided. The dedication of these hardy animals in reaching remote communities is commendable. It’s fascinating to see the historical impact of camels in global health efforts.

  4. Did camels continue to be a reliable mode of transportation for UN aid deliveries in more recent years?

    1. Yes, camels have remained a reliable mode of transportation for UN aid deliveries in recent years. They have been instrumental in reaching remote communities and delivering vaccines and aid where traditional vehicles struggle to access.

  5. Camels have truly been unsung heroes in the UN’s efforts, bolstering vaccination rates and delivering aid to hard-to-reach areas since the 1940s. Their role in bringing crucial vaccines to remote communities showcases their incredible utility and adaptability.

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