Technology is not inherently good or bad; it’s how it’s used. From music videos to saving lives, drone operations span the spectrum of ethics and morality. Drones are able to travel in minutes to places that would normally take hours or days by traditional methods. As a result, social entrepreneurs and humanitarian organizations are utilizing drones to deliver medical supplies, survey the aftermath of natural disasters and even plant trees to combat deforestation. In developing countries, drones can be used to save countless lives. Here are five ways drones can address poverty across the world:
5 Ways Drones Can Address Poverty
- Delivering Medical Supplies
Over one billion people in low-income countries do not have access to reliable roads, jeopardizing their access to proper medical care. Enter drones. Companies like Matternet are creating UAV supply highways that can quickly reach people in remote areas. By partnering with organizations like Doctors Without Borders, Matternet is running trials in Papua New Guinea and Haiti. These are trials to reinvent healthcare access and battle tuberculosis epidemics.
Drones are also being used by the United Nations Population Fund to deliver contraceptives to remote regions of Ghana. This is a place where was almost no access to birth control. Approximately 225 million women in developing countries are in need of birth control but do not have access to it. Drones can cut contraceptive delivery times down from two days to 30 minutes.
- Reforesting (and Protecting) the Planet
Approximately 1.6 billion people rely on forest resources for food, fuel, shelter, clothing and medicine. Yet, 15 billion trees are cut down every year.
To reverse deforestation, drones are being used by companies like BioCarbon Engineering. They do this by planting tree seedlings, along with other microorganisms and fungi, to increase soil health. For instance, in just one day, BioCarbon planted 5,000 trees in Dungog, Australia, a region ravaged by coal mining. BioCarbon has planted 25,000 trees since the company’s inception. Additionally, it is working towards a goal of planting one billion trees every year.
Not only can drones restore forest ecosystems, but they can also catch illegal loggers from destroying them in the first place. Indigenous communities in the Amazon and southern Guyana have employed drones to document illegal loggers and miners, using the proof to demand public officials to take action. In this way, drones can address poverty and also improve the planet.
- Assisting in Search and Rescue
Search and rescue missions are one of the five ways drones can address poverty. In 2015, during the European migrant crisis, an estimated 5,000 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean. Certainly, many organizations found this completely unacceptable.
The start-up NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) began employing drones in 2015 to find boats carrying refugees lost at sea. Christopher Catrambone, the founder of MOAS, has stated that drones are responsible for locating five of the eight boats that MOAS rescued in 2015. “Prior to using the drones, we felt like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” explained Catrambone.
- Providing Disaster Relief
Another way that drones can address poverty is in how they are incredible tools for disaster relief. They allow organizations to map out the aftermath and locate target areas for immediate aid. After Super Typhoon Haiyan killed over 6,000 Filipinos and destroyed approximately one million homes, drones were deployed by aid organizations to assess the damage and bring relief.
When every minute could be a life saved, drones can begin assessing disaster aftermath in three minutes. Helicopters, on the other hand, take up to an hour. From locating mines displaced after the Balkan floods in 2014 to functioning as mini-ambulances, equipped with defibrillators and EMS supplies, drones have the capability of saving countless lives.
- Helping Farmers and Local Businesses
Drones are helping farmers around the world monitor the health of their crops by taking multi-spectral aerial images. Combine this information with weather data, and farmers can better understand how water, fertilizer and types of soil positively or negatively affect their crops.
Drones Testing in Malawi
USAID has been funding a project in Malawi. The project is employing drones to help farmers increase crop production and fight hunger. Malawi has also recently opened a Humanitarian Drone Testing Corridor. This attracts industries, universities and individuals who want to test their drones for humanitarian and development work.
Fighting Poverty in China with Drones
In China, rural communities are being uplifted by being drones are being used to uplift rural communities by connecting them with the larger economy. Many villages are located in rough terrain, making it difficult and time-consuming to transport products to outside markets. JD, one of China’s biggest online retailers, has been using drones to help people deliver their products within a 150-mile radius. In fact, this method has a top speed of 62 miles per hour. JD is committed to fighting poverty. Additionally, it is operating in over 30 villages.
Positive Impact of Drones
These five ways drones can address poverty highlight what is possible when technology, social entrepreneurship and humanitarian issues collide. But at the end of the day, drones are one tool in the fight against poverty. However, they do have inevitable drawbacks and limitations.
Drone strikes have traumatized many communities. They may even invariably associate UAVs with the military. It is also important to be aware of the structure of privilege and deep-seated inequalities that continue to determine access to technology around the world. Overall, drones are little without people. Yet in the fight against poverty and inequality, it’s people who must embody change.
– Kate McIntosh