How Drones Can Help in Humanitarian Emergencies


This blog post originally appeared on ICTWorks.org and was written by Denise Soesilo and Timo Luege.

Few technologies have undergone as radical a change as drones. Where five years ago, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, were mainly seen as an instrument of war, today they are far more likely to be flown by a wedding photographer than an airman. Earlier this year, the Consumer Technology Association estimated that globally 9.4 million civilian UAVs will be sold in 2016.

Increased reliability, ease of use, and much lower prices have also made drones a viable technology for humanitarian responders. Rarely a week goes by without a new idea for how UAVs can revolutionize humanitarian aid: from drones that promise to detonate landmines to edible drones.

However, this hardware-centric view often neglects drawing on humanitarian best practice, respecting legal frameworks, or considering ethical aspects of humanitarian innovation.

As part of the EU-ECHO-funded research initiative “Drones in Humanitarian Action,” the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD), CartONG, UAViators, and the Zoi Environment Network have spent the last two years looking into how UAVs can have a real impact in humanitarian crises and what humanitarian organizations should consider before using them.

At the core of the research were 14 case studies from 10 countries that looked at the impact of drones in situations ranging from search and rescue, to damage assessments and camp management, to transporting medical samples.

Mapping drones currently add the most value

The Drones in Humanitarian Action report, which was presented on Friday, December 2, 2016, shows that mapping is by far the most evolved form of drone use in the humanitarian sector today. The technology is mature enough that skilled users can quickly produce information products that are of immediate use for humanitarian programs; drones can take photos that have 10 times as much detail as satellite images.

In addition, they can fly underneath cloud cover that often blocks the view from space. The results are especially useful in countries that experience recurring disasters such as floods, storms, or landslides, where precise maps can help empower communities to increase their own resilience to natural hazards or reduce risks to lives and livelihoods.

Cargo drones not yet ready for emergencies

On the other hand, drones are not yet sufficiently powerful enough to transport the tons of relief items that are typically needed during humanitarian emergencies. However, the authors expect that the considerable interest by the commercial logistics sector such as Amazon or DHL will soon result in improvements.

At the moment, cargo drones are mainly limited to transporting high-value, lightweight items such as blood, antivenom, or medical samples and most cargo drone pilot projects seem to be more geared towards development than humanitarian emergency response.

Information management is key

As drones are becoming ever more easy to use, the main challenges are shifting from flying the drones to processing, analyzing, and storing the data that the drones capture. This requires capacity building within humanitarian organizations or cooperation agreements with NGOs or companies that provide these services.

Global database for drone regulations

Another challenge is a lack of adequate regulations. In many countries, regulations do not exist and where they do exist, they typically do not include provisions for emergencies. Knowing which laws apply in a given context can be very difficult for humanitarian organizations. To help with this situation, Drones in Humanitarian Action has researched drone regulations in various countries.

One thing is clear: drones will become an increasingly common sight in humanitarian crises. Like all other technologies, drones are not a solution in themselves, but can augment and improve the skills of humanitarian professionals if used in the right way. It is up to these professionals to define guidelines under which circumstances their use is ethical and useful to assist survivors of natural disasters and conflicts.

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Leave a Comment

Why “Local to Global” Is as Important as “Global to Local”


Today Chemonics and Devex launch Global to Local, a three-week discussion about the importance of investing in sustainable and inclusive systems in developing countries. I am excited for Chemonics to have the opportunity to host this conversation with Devex, because this issue has never been more important. We all know development challenges are complex. The Sustainable Development Goals reflect this reality and set out a strategy to meet those challenges head on, calling for the...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

5 Principles for Open Innovation in International Development


The internet is ablaze with tutorials and commentaries on “open innovation.” Since Dr. Henry Chesbrough coined the term in 2003, how to best integrate innovative concepts into business models has been a hot topic. I recently attended the Open Innovation Summit, which brought together a diverse group of presenters and attendees, from General Electric to AT&T, all interested in learning about and sharing how to integrate the principles of open innovation into their corporate structures. I began to...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

A University in Your Pocket: The Potential of Education Via Mobile


It’s October 2006. You just updated your top friends on Myspace and direct messaged a classmate or colleague on AIM. You have a new voicemail on your flip phone, and you have just figured out how to email yourself photos from your cell. There is talk of Apple going “beyond the iPod,” and mobile money is just a gestating concept. Ten years later, we know how this narrative played out. What is mobile learning — and why should we care? Today, U.S. universities like Harvard, Cornell, and MIT make their...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

Incubators and Accelerators Aren’t Just for Silicon Valley Anymore


Over the past few decades, international development actors have sought models from outside of the traditional donor-implementer paradigm, understanding that innovation in development comes from cooperation and learning. In an attempt to tear down the silos of business, government, and NGOs, the international development community has called on strategies employed by tech incubators and accelerators to create new ways to identify, fund, and implement technologies, strategies, and products that...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

Fail Fast, Succeed Sooner: Why Investing in Innovation Is Worth the Risk


It has become increasingly trendy in international development to look to Silicon Valley and the tech world’s start-up culture for inspiration in making our programs more “innovative.” Inspired by the pace at which the tech world can turn an idea into products and staples of everyday life, we aspiring innovators of international development look to their example in turning ideas into social change. Posing the question what does innovation look like in international development, Chemonics and...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

Launching Mobile Money Solutions in Africa and the Emerging Markets


With the unprecedented rise of new payment technologies comes a growing appreciation of new methods to create, store, and transfer value through alternative forms of financing that take advantage of a hyper-connected world of mobile and social platforms. This is particularly true in Africa, where mobile money is at the heart of enabling a cashless economy for inclusive growth and sustainable development. Unlocking the value involves an active learning curve since the markets are moving quickly...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

3 Misconceptions People Have About Data Visualization and Infographics


The global development community is increasingly emphasizing the importance of quantitative indicators to measure projects and progress toward development goals. What does this mean? We are about to be awash in raw data. Development organizations have a pretty good handle on collecting data, but how do you go from having data to making evidence-based decisions? What links data to decisions? One word: communication. Data visualization and infographics can be powerful tools for communicating data....

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

Mobile Money Promotes Messages of Peace in Cote d’Ivoire


This post was originally published by the Better Than Cash Alliance and is cross-posted with permission. Chemonics is a proud member of the alliance. Many Ivoirians were concerned that the 2015 presidential elections would lead to renewed conflict, particularly after the violence surrounding the elections of 2010. One successful peace-promoting initiative in the country used radio broadcasts to share messages about reconciliation and the need for ongoing peace during the election period. Payments...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

Social and Behavior Change Communications — More than Just Mass Media


Social and behavior change communication (SBCC) is a mystery for many outside of the discipline. For one, it is different than behavior change communication (BCC). BCC solely focuses on promoting individual behavior change. On the other hand, SBCC also considers the social contexts, systems, and structures that lead to an enabling environment for social change as well as individual behavior change. The confusion of terms — SBCC, BCC, mass media communications, social marketing, and so forth — also...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

5 Trends to Watch in Digital Financial Services


The success of Kenya’s mobile money system, M-PESA, over the past few years has opened many people’s eyes to the potential of digital solutions to expand access to finance. In recent years, global markets have also taken notice in the lucrative opportunity posed by digital financial services or “fintech” (shorthand for the financial technology space). Since 2013, fintech investments have quadrupled to surpass $12 billion globally. With an estimated 2 billion working-age adults lacking access to...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

The Quality Journey: Celebrating 5 Years of ISO 9001 Certification


When Chemonics embarked on our ISO 9001 certification several years ago, we didn’t know what we were getting into. Not exactly anyways. We knew that ISO 9001 would certify us as an organization that values quality management. We knew it would launch us into a class of companies and organizations that can proudly claim a focus on customer service and a commitment to continual improvement. And we suspected that it would benefit our business operations by providing more consistency, transparency,...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

Connecting Social Entrepreneurs to Impact Investors


A $350 billion gap sits squarely between today’s reality and the potential of impact investing. Why is it so difficult for investors to identify the right opportunities that achieve both social change and a return on capital? How can the development community serve as the intermediary between social entrepreneurs who provide essential services and the impact investing firms whose capital could bring these ideas to scale? In a competitive marketplace, entrepreneurs face several barriers to entry...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

Development Ethics: Hiding in Plain Sight


Of all the reasons to travel to Costa Rica, attending a philosophy conference is probably not very high on the list. And yet, for that very reason, I found myself on a plane this July, in the company of tourists and travelers whose destinations included pristine beaches, isolated ecolodges, and bohemian hideaways. My destination, perhaps not as immediately glamorous as theirs, was a lecture hall at the University of Costa Rica, where the tenth international conference of the International Develop...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

Have We Made the Extraordinary Ordinary?


Introduce the protagonist, define the context, identify the challenge, and provide a resolution. And don’t forget the quote and a photo. It is a familiar format. The success story framework is one we use often to communicate the achievements of our project beneficiaries and demonstrate the value of international development. The power of stories is known, and they are an expected deliverable on most of Chemonics’ projects. We train our employees on how to capture them, package them, and...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »