Humanitarian Future - Drones
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Humanitarian Future – Drones

Technology has continuously been changing the way we interact with the world. And the humanitarian sector is no exception. There are many new trends emerging in the way that aid workers deliver help. Previously, we talked about biometric data, robotics, data for good, and artificial intelligence. In this edition of our humanitarian future series, let’s take a look at how drones are saving lives.

What are drones?

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are more commonly referred to as drones. They are a type of robot that can be remotely operated. You may have seen really cool aerial videos made by drones. Or were surprised by one while on vacation. But did you know that aid workers use drones for humanitarian purposes?

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Using drones for humanitarian aid

The main advantage of drones is that someone can operate one from afar. For the humanitarian field this can mean safety for aid workers, while still helping others. Drone technology is becoming commonplace in the humanitarian world.

Drones can make monitoring and evaluation much easier after a disaster. Organizations deploy drones to take aerial photos and videos in order to understand the extent of damage. This helps to evaluate the current situation in an affected area and deploy teams accordingly.

Another task that drones help with is medical aid. Sometimes, it is necessary to deliver medical supplies to areas that are not accessible. But drones can go where humans can’t. So organizations, such as Doctors without Border and the World Health Organizations use drones to drop medical supplies when necessary.

Controversies in the use of drones

While drones seem to be very straight-forward, there are actually some issues around the use of drones. One of them has to do with privacy. Since drones cannot discern among various human situations, they make take photos of people and compromise their privacy.

As drones generate a lot of data, there is also the issue of data management. Many organizations, particularly in the humanitarian field, are having trouble securing all of the data that they generate and gather. As such, organizations must be careful to only gather the data that they need for decision-making.

In addition, using drones in conflict zones or areas with high levels of insecurity can pose a number of problems. Military drones are in commonplace use in some conflict areas. This means that humanitarian drones can be confused with military ones. And instead of having a positive impact, might cause fear among the population.

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Humanitarian projects using drones


3,200 members in 120 countries are part of the UAViators network. The purpose of the organization is to ensure coordination in the use of drones. This applies to both data collection and cargo delivery. The UAViators network has produced a set of guidelines for the responsible use of drones.

Drones for damage assessments

Various organizations use drones for damage assessment after disasters. This includes the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Medair, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the American Red Cross (Amcross).

The IOM has been using drones in Haiti since 2012 for aerial imagery. CRS utilized drones for reconstruction and rebuilding efforts in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan. Meanwhile, Amcross regularly deploys drones for damage assessments in various areas.

Medical supplies delivery

Drones can also deliver medical supplies to areas that are not accessible for people. The World Health Organization (WHO) uses drones to deliver small medical supplies in Papua New Guinea. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has done the same in Bhutan.

Metternet produces special aerial vehicles to deliver medical supplies to places that are not accessible by road. New technologies are also on their way to deliver larger cargo loads.


Sensefly develops drones for various sectors, including humanitarian aid. The organization works on developing drone technologies for different uses. This includes up-to-date geographic data, among others.

Drones for vector control

The UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WeRobotics use drones to control insect pests. This is helping to prevent mosquito-borne diseases, such as Zika and dengue.

Here is What the Humanitarian Future Might Look Like

New technologies have been changing the world for centuries. Today, technology is changing at a faster pace than ever. And that means a lot of new trends for the humanitarian future. We’ve covered some of the top trends in humanitarian tech on this website. Together, they will undoubtedly alter the global development and aid sectors. So here is an overview of what the humanitarian future might look like.

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