The Government of Malawi has set up an air corridor to test potential humanitarian use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones being the first country to dedicated a corridor to drones as well as the first in Africa and one of the first globally with a focus on humanitarian and development use.
Working with UNICEF, the corridor is centred on Kasungu Aerodrome, in central Malawi, with a 40km radius (80km diameter) and is open to the private sector, universities and other partners to explore how drones can be used to help deliver services that will benefit communities.
According to Malawi’s Minister of Transport and Public Works, Jappie Mhango, “Malawi has over the years proved to be a leader in innovation and it is this openness to innovation that has led to the establishment of Africa’s first drones testing corridor here in Malawi. We have already used drones as part of our flood response and we can see the potential for further uses, such as transportation of medical supplies, which could transform lives in remote rural communities.”
Last year, Rwanda’s Zipline became the world’s first national drone delivery service and raised $25m series to test the service and scale it to more services. However, Malawi becomes the first to dedicate a testing corridor specifically for drones. The corridor will test drones for aerial imagery to monitor situations such as floods and earthquakes. It will also test Wi-Fi or cellphone signal drones for emergencies and marginalized areas and will test delivery of small low weight supplies such as emergency medical supplies, vaccines and samples for laboratory diagnosis, including for HIV testing.
The government says UAV corridor will run for at least one year, until June 2018. Drone manufacturers, operators and telecom companies such as: GLOBHE (Sweden) in collaboration with HemoCue and UCANDRONE (Greece), and Precision (Malawi) have applied to use the corridor for testing their services.
Malawi has limited road access to rural areas even most times, and after a flash flood earth roads can turn to rivers, completely cutting off affected communities.
“This humanitarian drone testing corridor can significantly improve our efficiency and ability to deliver services to the world’s most vulnerable children,” said UNICEF Office of Global Innovation Principal Adviser Christopher Fabian. “The success of these trials will depend on working in new ways with the private sector, government and local entrepreneurs and engineers who can ensure that technologies deliver appropriate solutions for the people who need them the most.”
The launch of the UAV 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. UNICEF has also deployed drones to support the Government of Malawi’s response to recent floods. UAV flights went out in Salima, Lilongwe and Karonga between February and April 2017 to provide aerial footage to help assess the needs of affected families.