Drones for Humanitarian and Environmental Applications


Drones in Humanitarian Action

“Drones in Humanitarian Action” is an in-depth analysis of the role that drones (also known as UAVs or RPASs) can play in humanitarian crises. It is based on two years of research as well as multiple stakeholder consultations.

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Case Study No. 10: Using Drones for Disaster Damage Assessments in Vanuatu


Type of system: Indago Multi-copter Microdrones by Lockheed Martin, 960L by Allign, Phantom 2 Vision+ by DJI and Fixed wing model UX-5 by Trimble
Deploying agency: World Bank with UAViators
Piloting agency: Heliwest, Australia, and X-Craft, New Zealand
Dates of Deployment: 28 March to 12 April 2015
Authors: Patrick Meier, Denise Soesilo

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Cyclone Pam struck Vanuatu and destroyed thousands of homes, schools and other buildings. The Humanitarian UAV Network carried out aerial surveys as the first operational project related to the World Bank UAVs for Resilience programme. The UAV team formulated standard operating procedures and coordination mechanisms, and carried out about 200 flights. Logistical and communication challenges, a lack of clarity about specific data requirements and the lack of a standardized file format limited the success of the project, but the drones mapped areas more quickly than any other available method, and the World Bank notes that extensive learning and insights were gained through the UAV mission.


On 13 March 2015, tropical Cyclone Pam, a category 5 storm, struck Vanuatu, a collection of 82 islands that stretch across 1 300 kilometres, and became one of the worst natural disasters in the country’s history. Wind gusts reached as high as 320 km/hour destroying thousands of homes, schools and other buildings, leaving 16 people dead and displacing 3 300 people. The cyclone affected a total of 132 000 people, including 54 000 children. Within days the World Bank asked the Humanitarian UAV Network (UAViators) to carry out aerial surveys of as many disaster-affected areas as possible to supplement the post-disaster needs assessment. The Government of Vanuatu, through the South Pacific Commission, identified priority areas for the aerial surveys while carrying out their own initial damage assessments in the wake of Cyclone Pam. The priority areas were Shefa (Efate Urban, Efate Rural, Epi, Tongoa) and Tafea (Tanna, Erromango) and Malampa (Ambrym, Pentecost). The World Bank chose to use UAVs instead of helicopters due to the limited and unpredictable availability and cost of chartered helicopters in Vanuatu. In addition, producing high-resolution ortho-rectified mosaics requires specific flight plans and altitudes that are typically not achievable with helicopters. The purpose of the aerial surveys was to complement the field-based disaster damage assessments to identify which buildings were fully destroyed versus damaged but reparable versus largely intact. The mission was carried out between 28 March and 12 April 2015.


Case Study No 9: Using Drone Imagery for real-time information after Typhoon Haiyan in The Philippines

Type of system: Huginn X1 Quadcopter
Deploying Agency: Danoffice IT (with support from Team Rubicon and Palantir)
Piloting Agency: Danoffice IT
Dates of Deployment: November 2013
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In late 2013, Danoffice IT used its Huginn X1 quadcopter drone during the emergency response to the worst ever Typhoon to hit The Philippines. This initiative — a pilot project conducted in partnership with humanitarian response teams on the ground — provided useful insights into the type of operational infrastructure needed to deploy drones effectively in emergencies. The drones were deployed later than anticipated, which limited the impact of the use of drones in decision-making or planning.


Cargo Drones in Humanitarian Contexts Meeting Summary


With funding from DG ECHO, FSD is implementing an initiative on Drones in Humanitarian Action in collaboration with CartONG, Zoï Environment Network and the Humanitarian UAV Network (UAViators)[1]. Discussions among the partners and participants led to a meeting focusing on cargo drone applications in humanitarian contexts co-organized and hosted by the University of Sheffield on 20-21 June 2016. The meeting brought together the principle stakeholders interested in the use of cargo drones for the delivery of essential humanitarian payloads. The purpose of this meeting was to advance the effective use of this emerging technology in humanitarian efforts actively, responsibly and effectively. This document summarizes the presentations and main discussion items of this meeting.

PDF Summary Report


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…)

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.