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The use of drones in humanitarian action

On the 08 February 2017 the Norwegian Mission organized, in cooperation with the Norwegian Emergency Preparedness System (NOREPS), UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an interactive session on the use of drones in humanitarian action. The session was a part of the Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week.

The session served as a meeting point between actors working in the humanitarian field and companies developing cutting-edge drone-technologies. The purpose was to give humanitarian actors the opportunity to identify and share with the industry needs in the field, to identify the challenges to meet these needs, and lastly to provide a way forward to solve these challenges, potentially using drone technology. For the industry to understand how drones, and affiliated technologies, can have a real positive impact for humanitarian work, they need exposure; the opportunity to work closely with humanitarian actors, developing an understanding for their needs. This informal session was a part of that ongoing process. 

Anders Martinsen from UAS Norway, a Norwegian Non-Governmental Organization working with Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, says the interest in the use of drones in humanitarian action is substantial and continues to grow. According to him, drones have gone from being a toy that was fun to play with, to now being a tool that can be used to help people in meaningful ways.

Drones are already in use in several humanitarian contexts, including in needs assessments, clearing of mines and disaster risk reduction. However, there are still several challenges that need to be addressed. The technology to make maps currently adds the most value, while the technology to carry relief items needed during humanitarian action is not ready yet. There is also a challenge when it comes to different country regulations on the use of drones. Analyzing and storing the enormous amounts of data that drones can capture is also a challenge.

According to Denise Soesilo from the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action it will not be the humanitarian actors who will push the industry to develop new technologies. This will have to be done by the private sector, and others. The humanitarian market is simply not big enough at this moment in time. What the humanitarian actors can do is to build up processes around already existing technologies that will improve response, and make humanitarian efforts more efficient.

With current technology, it is today possible to live stream photo images across the globe. This means that analytic expertise can be centralized. Drone pilots can be on location flying over flood-affected areas whilst the analysist can remain in her office, saving time and increasing the immediate quality of the analysis. Harald Skinnemoen from Ansur, a Norwegian company participating in the NOREPS-network and providing technology to drones, has years of experience doing just this. He says the technology is continuously being improved. Ansur recently had a successful experience with the use of drones in Sri-Lanka. In their project an authorized drone-pilot on the ground in Colombo flew a drone, while a building engineer placed in Geneva followed the live-video streaming from the drone. That way the engineer could guide the pilot interactively to have him fly over designated areas. Based on this guidance from remote experts, a more reliable and comprehensive aerial survey was performed. This serves as just one of many examples of how new technology provides us with new opportunities that can be used amongst others by humanitarian actors.

 

Further reading:

UNOSAT uses drones in disaster risk reduction: https://www.unitar.org/enhancing-sri-lankas-capacity-integrating-earth-observation-applications-urban-disaster-risk-reduction-urbandrr

Norwegian people’s aid plans to use drones in clearing mines outside Mosul https://www.folkehjelp.no/Vaart-arbeid/Land-vi-jobber-i/Midtoesten/Irak/Humanitaer-nedrustning-i-Irak

FSD Report: Drones in Humanitarian Action – A guide to airborne systems in humanitarian crises. http://drones.fsd.ch/en/how-drones-can-help-in-humanitarian-emergencies/

UASNORWAY: http://www.uasnorway.no/

 


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