2016: Year Ender: Malawi, Unicef launch Africa’s humanitarian drone corridor

Malawi is combating maternal deaths with innovations


Call it great development. UNICEF, Malawi humanitarian in drone testing corridor

The UN children’s agency, Unicef and Malawi have established an air corridor to test potential humanitarian use of drones which are unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

A statement released by Unicef says the corridor is the first in Africa and one of the first globally with a focus on humanitarian and development use.

“It will run for a maximum distance of 40 km and become fully operational by April 2017. The corridor is designed to provide a controlled platform for the private sector, universities, and other partners to explore how UAS can be used to help deliver services that will benefit communities,” reads the statement in part.

Malawi’s Minister of Transport and Public Works, Jappie Mhango is optimistic that the southern African nation will benefit a lot from the initiative.

“Malawi has over the past years faced serious droughts and flooding. The launch of the UAS testing corridor is particularly important to support transportation and data collection where land transport infrastructure is either not feasible or difficult during emergencies,” he said.

The benefits of the Humanitarian UAS Testing Corridor are plenty and they include:

  • Imagery ability which entails generating and analyzing aerial images for development and during humanitarian crises, including for situation monitoring in floods and earthquakes
  • Connectivity which enables exploring the possibility for UAS to extend Wi-Fi or cellphone signals across difficult terrain, particularly in emergency settings
  • Transport that will result in delivery of small low weight supplies such as emergency medical supplies, vaccines and samples for laboratory diagnosis, including for HIV testing.

The UN agency is currently working globally with a number of governments and private sector partners to explore how drones can be used in low income countries.

“The establishment of the testing corridor means there is now a place where we can explore the potential of UAS in the development and humanitarian space,” said Cynthia McCaffrey, Director of Unicef’s Office of Innovation.

She added: “This programme allows Unicef to adapt to rapid developments in drone technology and potentially integrate drone into our work for children.”

The launch of the drone testing corridor follows a pilot project in March 2016 on the feasibility of using the system for the transportation of dried blood samples for early infant diagnosis of HIV.

The feasibility study conducted earlier this year showed that drones are a viable addition to existing transport systems including those used to help with the diagnosis of HIV.

The drone corridor will run for 1-2 years.