Malawi, UNICEF launch humanitarian drone testing corridor: The first project of its kind in Africa

Malawi and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has launched Africa’s first air corridor to test the use of drones in humanitarian missions.

Officials appreciate how a drone is flown

nister of Transport Jappie Mahngo launching the drones as PS Dr Mary Shawa looks on

The government has launched the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in partnership with the UN children agency, Unicef.

Kasungu aerodrone will be used as a test site for aerial scouting in crisis situations, delivering supplies and using drones to boost internet connectivity.

Universities and other partners will also have access to the site.

Officially launching the corridor, Minister of Transport and Public Works, Jappie Mhango, said drones have proven to be very important technology which can help Malawians in several ways.

“Drones have proven to be very important in transporting medical supplies to areas that are not accessible by roads. They have also been seen useful during disasters where they have been used to take images for assessing situations for effective response. Malawi as a country faces several problems, from disasters to diseases, we therefore need these innovations to help the people in times of need,” said Mhango.

The project will run up to 2018.

Unicef says it is working with a number of governments and private sector partners to explore how drones can be used in humanitarian development missions.

The drones will be tested for a year on the corridor which is five kilometers in radius, from Kasungu Airfield, but will be extended to a radius of 40 km as the tests progresses.

Unicef says the project was launched after a succesful test flight last year to deliver dried blood for early infant diagnosis of HIV in hospitals in the country.

The organisation also used camera-equipped drones to assess the needs of people cut off during floods.

Unicef Malawi representative Johannes Wedenig said poor infrastructure in the country made drones relevant and cost effective.

“With UAVs we can easily fly over the affected area to see clearly what the impact has been on the ground. This is cheaper and better resolution than satellite images,” said the Unicef Malawi boss.

“This is our opportunity to shape new technology in a positive direction. To take something known for commercial and military purposes, and make it a tool for development and humanitarian response,” said Wadenig

The department of Civil Aviation has given permission and specifications for operating delivery drones in the air corridor.

They include maximum distance of 80km, altitude limit at 400 metres above ground and the corridor shall run for one to two years. Malawi now joins Rwanda, South Africa and Mauritius on the list of countries leading in cutting edge research on the drone use to address real life challenges.

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