UNICEF opens Africa’s first humanitarian drone testing corridor in Malawi

The UN children’s agency Unicef has formally opened an air corridor to test the effectiveness of drones in humanitarian emergencies.

The project opened on Thursday in Malawi is the first of its kind in Africa and will assist mostly in humanitarian and development use.

“You can really see what can drones in terms of transport bring medical supplies to health centres, bring educational supplies to school, what can they do in terms of connectivity in areas where we do not have coverage of telecommunications network and it puts Malawi on the map,” said UNICEF country representative, Johannes Wedenig.

The innovation will help us in a number of ways. Apart from delivering, you know, medical samples to testing laboratories, it can also do a lot of mapping, land surveying and several other important activities

The corridor will have a radius of 40 km and is also open to the private sector, universities and could also provide imagery to map out natural environments and other infrastructure.

“The innovation will help us in a number of ways. Apart from delivering, you know, medical samples to testing laboratories, it can also do a lot of mapping, land surveying and several other important activities,” said Malawian minister of transport, Jappie Mhango.

The test corridor is centred at the Kasungu Aerodrome focusing on three tasks: generating aerial images of crisis situations, using drones to extend Wi-Fi or mobile phone signals across difficult terrain in emergencies and delivering low-weight emergency supplies.

The launch of the testing corridor follows a pilot project in Malawi in March 2016 on the feasibility of using drones for the transportation of dried blood samples for early infant diagnosis of HIV.

This study showed that drones are a viable addition to existing transport systems, including those used to help with the diagnosis of HIV.