No humanitarian aid operation is possible without accurate data of the affected areas and communities. To this day, the humanitarian community has mostly relied on data provided by plane or helicopter flight observations over impacted areas. Such operations are very costly, take time, heavily dependent on weather conditions and often don’t allow easy access to remote or isolated areas. At times, they might even interfere with rescue operations, which can lead to dangerous situations. What is more, smaller humanitarian aid actors are entirely dependent on governments or bigger players for the production of such data. These constraints hamper the necessary agility of humanitarian relief effort where time is limited. The use of UAVs by humanitarian aid operations is about to change that.
Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere, has a recent history of dramatic natural disasters. Over a million Haitians have been displaced, and infrastructures severely hit. In 2010, Haiti sustained a massive earthquake, immediately followed by Hurricane Sandy (2012) which left substantial parts of the country destroyed and its people homeless and vulnerable. Parrot and its subsidiary Sensefly teamed up with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to help the IOM perform two of its core missions in Haiti: data collection about the displaced population and disaster risk reduction.
eBee drones (a Parrot/Sensefly product) were used by IOM teams in 2013 to map out some 45 km2 of Haitian territory in just 6 days. The precise 2D maps and 3D terrain models produced by the drone’s camera provided up to the minute imagery to the IOM. Maps created were crucial in delivering aid to these communities and in developing infrastructure for displaced people. 3D mapping has also been instrumental in risk reduction activities. For example, by mapping out a riverbed, the IOM has been able to map the flow of water in order to plan infrastructure and protect dense urban encampments from flooding. Several shantytowns were also mapped in the process, recording census information, distributing aid and developing infrastructure. Collected data were made publically available in the hope they would help efforts carried out by small and medium-sized humanitarian relief bodies.
Finally, the IOM and the professional services team of Drone Adventures, which helped the IOM to operate the drones, have now successfully trained local communities in using and understanding drone technology.
A European Commission report found that compared to satellite imaging sources, UAV’s offer “significant benefits due to their higher flexibility in deployment, potentially better timeliness and more advanced technical capabilities”.