Drones in Humanitarian Action


A 21 month action to consolidate existing knowledge on the use of drones (also known as UAVs and RPASs) in the humanitarian context. With partners, we will also test promote and disseminate the appropriate use and best practices among UN Clusters, NGOs and other relevant stakeholders. 

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Drones for Humanitarian and Environmental Purposes

Case Study No 7: Using High-resolution Imagery to Support the Post-earthquake Census in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Type of system: Swinglet Fixed Wing Mapping Drone
Deploying Agency: IOM
Piloting Agency: IOM
Dates of Deployment: May 2012

The International Organization for Migration, in collaboration with the National Statistics Office of Haiti, conducted a census of areas and populations affected by the 2010 earthquake. Insufficiently precise GPS and out-dated reference imagery were inadequate to the task of clarifying land tenure status. IOM therefore conducted drone flights to obtain the high-resolution imagery essential to the preparation of assessments in Haiti’s densely populated slums. The drone imagery enabled the preparation of precise maps of the enumeration areas, and the maps enabled the enumerators to pinpoint exactly which buildings to assess and to link individual buildings to their owners. Local support included volunteers from the Haiti OpenStreetMap community, who contributed directly to the project by digitizing buildings and roads. (more…)

Case Study No 6: Mapping Rapid Damage Assessments of Tabarre and Surrounding Communities in Haiti following Hurricane Sandy


Type of system: Swinglet Fixed Wing Mapping Microdrone
Deploying Agency: IOM and Comunite OpenStreetMap de Haiti (COSMHA)
Piloting Agency: IOM
Dates of Deployment: October 28 to November 1, 2012


The timely availability of aerial imagery of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, combined with existing open source imagery and census data, allowed analysts to determine with precision where assistance was needed. The ability of drones to acquire the imagery depended on pilots gaining access to the affected areas, but did not require the clear skies necessary for the effective use of satellite imagery, and the drones accomplished the task seven days before the satellites. Download PDF (more…)

Case Study No. 5: Mapping – Testing the Utility of Mapping Drones for Early Recovery in the Philippines

Type of system: eBee fixed-wing micro-drone
Deploying Agency: Medair
Piloting Agency: Drone Adventures
Dates of Deployment: March 2014


A project employing drones in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan explored how aerial imagery might support recovery and reconstruction activities. Ultimately, the imagery captured by drones became useful in both a tactical and strategic sense during the retrofitting of shelters, and helped not only to identify and verify the shelter sites, but also to help determine the placement of latrines. The mission provided a rich learning experience on the operational use of aerial robotics in a disaster recovery context.

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Case Study No. 4: Mapping – Deploying Drones for Spatial Modeling of Displaced Landmines after floods in Bosnia Herzegovina


Type of system: MD4-1000 Multicopter Microdrone
Deploying Agency: Belgian Royal Military Academy
Piloting Agency: Belgian First Aid and Support Team (B-FAST)
Dates of Deployment: May and June 2014


Heavy floods and landslides in Bosnia Herzegovina shifted minefields and explosive remnants of war (ERW) into inhabited areas. The Belgian Royal Military Academy (RMA) team worked with the Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Centre (BHMAC) to use drone images that would help model the potential locations of some of the many displaced ERWs and mines. These models then were used to narrow down the search radius for demining teams.
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Case Study No. 3: Mapping – Small-scale Mapping with Consumer Drones in Nepal


Type of system: DJI Phantom 3 Advanced with Pix4Dcapture mobile app
Deploying Agency: UAViators
Piloting Agency: DJI
Dates of Deployment: September 2015


The aims of the project were to provide drone training to locals around Kathmandu and to demonstrate the potential use of drone imagery in disaster response. To this end, relatively affordable consumer drones, together with mapping software and a flight-planning app, were used to achieve similar results to those a professional mapping drone would produce.
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Drones in Humanitarian Action is partially funded by DG ECHO. This website covers humanitarian aid activities implemented with the financial assistance of the European Union. The views expressed herein should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of the European Union, and the European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.