ADDA alumni aid cyclone response with swift tech solutions
Drones for emergencies
Tropical Cyclone Freddy made a devastating landfall in southern Malawi on 11March 2023 bringing torrential rains that lasted for three days. The cyclone hit the country at the end of the rainy season when rivers and other water bodies were already full of water resulting in severe flooding and landslides in 14 districts but causing extensive damage in Blantyre, Chikwawa, Mulanje, Nsanje, and Phalombe districts. The cyclone left over 563,60 people displaced, 287,437 of whom are children.
Due to the devastation caused by the landslides and flooding, bridges and roads were washed away rendering some areas inaccessible to rescue, response, and recovery teams.
Swiftly bridging the access divide
To complement the multi-sectoral efforts and aid in recovery from the devastating effects of the floods, UNICEF activated its investment in Drone and Data for Good. Within 24 hours of the floods occurring, they deployed a team of eight African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) instructors and graduates to assist with aerial imagery acquisition, mapping, and support for Search and Rescue (SAR) services.
"The young ADDA team spent seven days collecting images, video footage, and geographic data, which were stitched together to develop orthomosaics of the impacted areas. Once the images were processed, they could pinpoint structures such as crops, roads, houses, schools, and hospitals to their exact geographical locations, as drone-acquired images are geo-tagged. The damage and access assessment maps show the accessibility of the affected areas and the extent of damages to various structures," said Postar Chikaoneka, UNICEF Malawi's ADDA Specialist. "These images are highly accurate and can be used to measure topography, water levels, and the position of strategic buildings like displacement camps in relation to each other, providing valuable information for rescuers," he added.
Since numerous ground images and videos depicting various degrees of flood damage were in circulation, the ADDA drone-acquired images will also be used to verify these and estimate the cost of the damage. Thus far, the drone images have been utilized by the Emergency Operations Centre team, which includes the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA), UN Agencies, and other development and humanitarian agencies, for decision-making in the Cyclone Freddy response.
Providing baseline data for future humanitarian responses
Once again, the UNICEF-supported ADDA has proven to be crucial for rapid damage assessment, informing first responders about the extent of damage and areas to prioritize for search and rescue, as well as the provision of relief items and services. Most importantly, the drone imagery has revealed that the available satellite-based crisis data on flood extent lacks adequate details on the extent of floods in Malawi, or at least in the areas that were surveyed. This mission will create a data bank to serve as a baseline for effective flood response in the future.
Rudolf Schwenk, UNICEF Malawi Representative, states, "As floods continue to occur more frequently, it is important to have a pool of local talent that can be quickly called upon to join response teams. The ADDA provides Malawi with a continuous supply of young people possessing 21st-Century skills, ready to serve their country."