UNHCR Uses Drones To Help Refugees Fleeing Violence in Africa

Fredrick Ngugi Dec 2, 2016 at 10:00am

December 02, 2016 at 10:00 am | Tech & Innovation

Fredrick Ngugi

Fredrick Ngugi | Contributor

December 02, 2016 at 10:00 am | Tech & Innovation

This aerial view photo was taken by a drone camera. The technology has helped map shelters housing displaced people at the Sayam Forage refugee camp in Niger. Photo Credit: UNHCR

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is now using drones to assist people fleeing violence and plan relief responses  in different parts of Africa. The technology is already being used in Uganda, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, helping map large masses of displaced people, assess the appropriate humanitarian assistance, and develop the best way to deliver it.

In some areas, drones are being used to evaluate the extent of environmental damage caused by war and the displacement of people. Despite decades of self-rule and independence, many African countries are still experiencing spates of deadly civil conflicts, mainly triggered by political instability and authoritarian rule.

The UNHCR says drones are essential to ensuring the timely and effective delivery of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations.

“There are numerous peaceful applications of this technology, whether in human rights, aid delivery, or settlement mapping,” Andrew Harper, the head of UNHCR’s innovation unit said.

Harper adds that the technology has become widely available at a time when millions of people in countries like South Sudan, Mali, Burundi, Nigeria, Somalia, and the Central African Republic are being forced from their homes due to war and persecution.

Self-Taught Drone Maker

To deliver service to populations in war-torn areas, the UNHCR hired Aziz Kountche, a Nigerian self-taught drone maker, to create a drone that would help relief workers understand the dynamics of population movements.

Kountche developed a simple T-800 M drone that resembles a typical airplane, and it has received government’s authorization to operate in frontline areas.

The drone, which can cover an area the size of Belgium, captures images that are converted into accurate maps, which help relief workers trace displaced populations in the remotest parts of the continent.

Head of the UNHCR field office in Dori, Mali, Alpha Oumar, said, “Aerial views and camp mapping can help reshape our ability to respond to short-term and long-term needs. For instance, we could track the evolution of the locations of the shelters and the movements within the camps, but also document the evolution of the environmental context and the available natural resources in and around the camps.”

The organization hopes to use the technology to gather important data in refugee camps in Uganda, where close to half-a-million refugees from South Sudan are seeking asylum.

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