Helicopter for change

In Zimbabwe, the World Food Programme (WFP) extended its humanitarian air transport service to other UN agencies and NGOs to help deliver donated items to affected communities

Elizabeth Van Veen
World Food Programme Insight
3 min readApr 16, 2019


Following Cyclone Idai, road access to several parts of Manicaland province — particularly in the Chimanimani district — was cut off. Thanks to funding from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (EU ECHO) and UNCERF, WFP was able to deploy a Mi-8 helicopter from March 25 until April 27 to help reach affected communities with critical food assistance and other relief items.

Photos: Top: WFP/ Pedro Mortara ; Bottom: WFP/Tatenda Macheka

The Mi-8 is a workhorse and well suited for the areas that were cut off and could not be accessed. It can carry a maximum of 2,500 kg — equivalent weight of an African elephant.

In March and April, several communities, living in hard-to-reach areas as infrastructure such as roads and bridges were damaged, received life-saving assistance through the helicopter service.

The helicopter was used to meet the most pressing needs of individuals affected by Cyclone Idai. The needs were quite diverse, including both food and non-food items such, amongst others: mosquito nets, water purification tablets, clothing, cooking utensils, medicines, blankets and tents.

Photo (left): WFP/Niels Balzer & Photo (right): WFP/Tatenda Macheka

As the lead of the Logistics Cluster, WFP extended its air transport service to partnering organizations, other UN agencies and NGOs to help deliver donated items to the affected communities.

To date, with assistance provided by local authorities, first responders, Food Cluster partners, the Government and other partners, an estimated 230,000 people have been assisted with humanitarian assistance. WFP Zimbabwe’s helicopter moved almost 90 metric tons of food, reaching some 50,000 vulnerable people.

Photo: WFP/Tatenda Macheka

WFP delivered Super Cereal plus, a highly fortified and nutritious food, to children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and people living with HIV/AIDS who are most at risk of malnutrition. Partners like Red Cross and GOAL helped distribute humanitarian aid, on the ground, in the remote areas of Zimbabwe.

The Mi-8 was based strategically based in the city of Mutare, where WFP established two Mobile Storage Units. The units were available to partners whose cargo the helicopter transported.

While the helicopter brought emergency assistance to severely affected areas, it also captured the interest of the community in Mutare. Teachers took their classes to visit the helicopter between cargo transfers. For many students, this was their first time on board a helicopter.

Left: Teacher bringing students to visit the helicopter. Right: Wonder has wanted to see a helicopter since he was small. He dreams of becoming a pilot.
Photos (top): WFP/Tatenda Macheka & Photo (bottom): WFP/Pedro Mortara

The roads have now been rehabilitated, and the helicopter service in Zimbabwe has come to an end. However WFP continues to deliver food, by road, to the affected populations.

As for the Mi-8, it is currently in northern Mozambique, carrying life-saving food assistance to thousands affected by Cyclone Kenneth.

Learn more about WFP’s work in Zimbabwe.