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Malawi, 16 February 2017: UNICEF deploys drones for flood response in Salima and Lilongwe

© UNICEF Malawi/2017

LILONGWE, Malawi, 16 February 2017 – UNICEF has deployed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, to support the emergency response to Malawi’s recent floods, led by the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA). The first flights went out in TA Pemba’s area in Salima to provide aerial footage to help assess the needs of affected families. This was followed by demonstrations in Lilongwe and Salima.

The aim of the UAV flights is to conduct faster, more efficient and cost-effective assessments of the situation of communities and families following a flood. UNICEF is also exploring the potential for drones to be used to support immediate search and rescue efforts.

“Malawi has limited road access to rural areas even at the best of times, and after a flash flood earth roads can turn to rivers, completely cutting off affected communities,” UNICEF Representative Johannes Wedenig said. “With UAVs we can easily fly over the affected area and see clearly what the impact has been on the ground. This is cheaper and better resolution than satellite images.”

The demonstration which took place in Mtandire, Lilongwe on Saturday 11 February was attended by the Vice President, Right Hon. Dr Saulos Klaus Chilima, who is also Minister responsible for Disaster Management Affairs, Secretary to the Vice President and Commissioner for Disaster Management Affairs Mr Ben Botolo, Chief Executive Officer for Lilongwe City Assembly Mr Moza Zeleza, DoDMA officials, UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo and members of the local community.

They watched as a UAV took off from Kamkodola Primary School, which has being used as an evacuation centre since the flash floods on Friday. The drone shot aerial video and successfully landed. On Monday 13 February, His Excellency the President, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika also witnessed a UAV flight in Salima at Mgwirizano primary school which is being used as an evacuation centre for people displaced by the flash floods.

During the flight in Mtandire, the Vice President Right Hon. Dr Saulos Klaus Chilima, said he was very impressed to see the drone in operation in a real life crisis situation. “We are looking forward to continuing to work with UNICEF in this new, innovative way, as part of an improved response to floods and other natural disasters. Drones are a ’leapfrog technology’ with huge potential in Malawi,” said Chilima soon after a successful landing.

The drone used was quadcopter, which can fly for up to 1.5 km out of sight for 20 minutes. It was carrying a digital SLR camera which took high resolution photos and video. The resolution is high enough for water and sanitation experts to check the quality of water in wells.

The UAVs are being used to generate aerial images showing damage to roads, buildings, fields, wells and latrines. They can also track the movement of displaced people. This information will then be analyzed by DoDMA to inform their disaster response, by identifying families that have lost homes and crops, and providing shelter and food for these people. Other potential uses of UAVs which will be explored include delivery of small low weight supplies such as life vests for people trapped by flood waters or emergency medical supplies to evacuation centres.

UNICEF is working with Precision, a Malawian drone company, to provide and pilot the UAVs for emergency response. “This is Precision’s first humanitarian project – in the past we mainly did agriculture, construction and wildlife tracking,” Precision owner and pilot Owen Cardew said. “It’s exciting to be working with UNICEF on this project, and it was great to see the response of the local community in Salima. One woman said it was the first time in five days she had seen her house and was relieved to see the water retreating.”

UNICEF is also responding to the flood crisis with more conventional aid. In Zomba, we are working with NGO partners to conduct a preliminary needs assessment and are providing water and sanitation supplies to affected communities. This includes 1,000 water guards, which add chlorine to drinking water to make it safe for drinking, 500 bars of soap for hand washing, and three rolls of plastic sheets for latrine construction. We are also working with affected communities to sensitize them in cholera prevention.


Notes to editors

Multimedia content is available for media to use (please credit UNICEF Malawi):
Click here for photos and video of Lilongwe flight (Dropbox)

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. Visit

For more information contact:
Andrew Brown, UNICEF Malawi, +265 999 964208,
Doreen Matonga, UNICEF Malawi, +265 888 891980, 



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