Humanitarian drones take flight in Malawi

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the government of Malawi launched the first African air corridor for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also called drones, on Thursday, June 29, with a focus on humanitarian and developmental use.

Malawi, a landlocked African country with a population of just over 17 million people, frequently suffers from flooding and has limited road access to rural areas. Flash floods can turn earth roads into rivers, effectively cutting off communities from emergency aid.

To deliver emergency services to communities, the government of Malawi partnered with UNICEF to provide an air corridor for UAVs centered at the Kasungu Aerodrome in central Malawi, about an hour away from capital city Lilongwe.

The partnership follows the previous innovations with UNICEF to deploy drones to support the Government of Malawi’s response to recent floods.

“Malawi has over the years proved to be a leader in innovation and it is this openness to innovation that has led to the establishment of Africa’s first drones testing corridor here in Malawi,” said Malawi’s Minister of Transport and Public Works, Jappie Mhango in a UNICEF press release.

“We have already used drones as part of our flood response and we can see the potential for further uses, such as transportation of medical supplies, which could transform lives in remote rural communities,” he added.

The Humanitarian UAV Testing Corridor will facilitate testing in three main areas: imagery, connectivity, and transport.

Specifically, drones will be used to provide accurate mapping of rural regions, extend Wi-Fi and cellphone coverage in emergency situations, and deliver critical light-weight medical supplies and aid to isolated communities.

Since announcing the partnership in December 2016, over 12 companies, universities, and NGOs around the world have already applied for use of the air space. Among them are drone manufacturers and operators, like Sweden’s GLOBHE, and the emergency medical diagnostics company HemoCue.

The air corridor has a radius of 40 kilometers and a maximum altitude of 400 meters, and will run for at least a year until 2018. It is one of the first UAV air corridors globally to provide humanitarian and developmental aid to vulnerable communities.

UNICEF says that the project will abide by their company-standard innovation principles, which require all projects to be open source, open data, sharable, and designed for scale.

According to their website, UNICEF currently operates in 190 countries and territories with a mission to “promote the rights and wellbeing of every child” while “focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children.”

By John Perry for NTD News

 
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