Event: Drones in Humanitarian Action — Specific Needs and the Way Forward in the Middle East

In Amman, Jordan on 19 January 2017, a work session accompanied by presentations was organised by FSD together with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) Amman regional office. In attendance, were representatives from various NGOs and agencies that are involved in humanitarian aid activities in the region.

Following a brief introduction by Gloria Fernandez (DG ECHO), presentations were given by by Valeria Fabbroni, Denise Soesilo, and Nate Smith (OpenAerialMap). After these presentation, participants broke our into group discussion to identified specific imagery / UAV related service needs for the region, challenges to meet these needs, and ways forward.

The lack of an enabling regulatory environment in many middle eastern countries featured strongly in these discussions. Some advances were also made on the discourse on using drones in a displacement and conflict context.

Drones in Humanitarian Action – A Global Overview by Denise Soesilo, FSD
Imagery Distribution with OpenAerialMap by Nate Smith, HOT OSM / OAM

Discussion Notes:
Drones in Humanitarian Action — Specific Needs and the Way Forward in the Middle East

Drones in Humanitarian Action – A guide to airborne systems in humanitarian crises

In addition, the Humanitarian UAV Network (UAViators) has in the past drafted guidelines with regards to data use and the use of drones in conflict settings.

Following is a summary of key discussion points:

  • The data needs in the Middle East focused especially around having available imagery at a high frequency to understand needs, and for situational monitoring;
  • Challenges concerned both the use of imagery and resulting information, as well as physically flying a drone in conflict settings;
  • Humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, humanity and the humanitarian imperative must be upheld;
  • Where regulatory environments are not clear,  key concerns of the government should be identified, mitigation strategies suggested and SOPs negotiated;
  • Governments must be informed on two levels: Function and implications of the collected data and potential implication of physically flying a craft;
  • In military zones and where armed military actors are present, authorisations from all the militaries present in the area must be obtained and humanitarian actors must refer to existing guidelines on Humanitarian Negotiations with Armed Groups;
  • Near conflict settings humanitarian actors must be especially proactive in working with communities, informing and educating these on work, and about the pragmatic use that resulting information can have to benefit the community;
  • In general, during the flying operations, awareness must be mobilised and people (all parties of conflict) be kept informed that operations are conducted;
  • Special markings, or colors that clearly identify the craft as belonging to a humanitarian mission / actor or that indicate that the craft is not part of the conflict should be used where possible;
  • Where transparency is not possible because of other discretionary circumstances, UAVs should not be considered as a suitable tool;
  • Pilots that are experienced and able to fly safely following rules of the air, and understand airspace restrictions must be used. This may be done by working with authorised service providers or certified professionals;
  • Encryption to guard against potential hijacking of physical assets and data must be used when operating craft;
  • When the above points cannot be followed, consider not to deploy UAVs;
  • Consider data sharing or distribution through neutral actors like UNOCHA instead of directly from humanitarian groups to reduce duplication;
  • Imagery resolution is not an issue, but perception of collection by communities can lead to distrust, intolerance if not engaged with the community.