Humanitarian drone corridor launched in Malawi

How drones are helping the poorest, hardest-to-reach communities access aid and information

A man in Malawi holds up a drone at a community demonstration
23 August 2017

LILONGWE, Malawi, 23 August 2017 – As the drone buzzed over Thipa village in rural Malawi, young and old people alike applauded in amazement. The community demonstration came as the Government of Malawi and UNICEF launched an air corridor to test the use of drones for humanitarian purposes – the first in Africa and one of the first globally with a focus on humanitarian and development use. 

The corridor is designed to provide a controlled platform for the private sector, universities and other partners to explore how drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), can help deliver services that benefit communities and schools.

The goal? Help the poorest and hardest to reach families in Malawi. The choice of location for the corridor will allow companies to test drones in a rural setting with a variety of landscape and several remote areas, where health clinics and schools struggle with transportation and mobile reception.

Earlier this year, UNICEF deployed drones to support the Government of Malawi’s response to floods. UAV flights went out to provide aerial footage to help assess the needs of affected families. UNICEF is also exploring the potential for drones to be used to support immediate search and rescue efforts.


Launch of the humanitarian drone testing corridor

The drone testing corridor will facilitate testing in three main areas: 1. Imagery: generating and analyzing aerial images for development and during humanitarian crises, including for situation monitoring in floods and earthquakes; 2. Connectivity: exploring the possibility for UAVs to extend Wi-Fi or cellphone signals across difficult terrain, particularly in emergencies; 3. Transport: delivery of small low weight supplies such as emergency medical supplies, vaccines and samples for laboratory diagnosis, including for HIV testing. > Read the story

Remote community sees a drone for the first time

It was clear that for some people, this was their first time seeing a drone. Others had seen one a few months before: it was taking pictures at a wedding of one of the ‘rich men’ near their village. There’s no word for drone in the local language Chichewa, so people call it ‘kandege kakang’ono’, which translates as ‘small plane’. > Read the story

Children in Malawi watch a drone demonstration
UNICEF Malawi/2017/Andrew Brown

Children watch a drone demonstration in Thipa village, Kasungu.

School highlights hurdles facing rural education

Katayanthona is a typical school in a hard to reach rural area. With no library, students rely on the knowledge imparted by their teachers. The school has many needs, including new classrooms and textbooks, but if the drone corridor is successful, one day digital libraries and document drops could form part of the answer to their problems. > Read the story

School children in Malawi in class outside
UNICEF Malawi/2017/Andrew Brown

Children learn under a tree outside a church, while exams are underway at their school.

Challenges for rural clinics

Early in the morning, health worker Amidu Malope holds his regular clinic for children under five years old, in the shade of some trees on the edge of the village. He arrives by bicycle and sets up an outdoor consultation area: a wooden table with benches and a box full of drugs, malaria test kits and other medical supplies. His waiting room is a mat on the dusty ground, which by 8.00 am is already full with waiting mothers and children. > Read the story