Survey: Humanitarians Have Favorable Views On Using Drones In Their Field

The number of uses for unmanned aircraft continues to climb and some are beginning to delve into the technology’s potential in the humanitarian sector.

Respondent views on drone in humanitarian work. Source: "Drones in Humanitarian Action," 2016.
Respondent views on drone in humanitarian work. Source: “Drones in Humanitarian Action,” 2016.

A survey conducted over the course of November 2015 to January 2016 by the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action found most respondents had favorable views of using drones in the field.

“A majority of survey respondents expressed confidence that drones have the potential to strengthen humanitarian work, and that drones can greatly enhance the speed and quality of localized needs assessments,” the survey report said.

Based in Geneva, the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action works to locate and destroy landmines and other unexploded weapons to prevent injury and property damage.

In all, about 60 percent of the 194 survey respondents said they had positive perceptions while 18 percent said they were neutral on the topic and 22 percent held unfavorable views.

Those with a negative view of using the technology for humanitarian purposes had concerns centering around the devices creating distance between air workers and recipients, not adding value to the field and being confused with aircraft used for military purposes.

“The association of drones to the conflicts [and] surveillance for war efforts would make it a conflict of interest for the neutrality of the humanitarian space,” one respondent wrote.

Respondents see potential for the technology to capture imagery and provide access to remote areas. Even small drones can be fitted with cameras and other sensors capable of creating maps and allowing humanitarians to assess situations without putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations.

An individual works with a drone as part of a case study to use drones for delivering medical payloads. Source: Matternet.
An individual works with a drone as part of a case study to use the technology for delivering medical payloads. Source: Matternet.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, one respondent noted that they had seen drones used to determine the movements of population and the scale of destruction that had taken place in areas of the country.

Sometimes reaching areas can be nearly impossible and drones would allow humanitarians to bridge that gap.

“Access is key and sometimes impossible with traditional transportation resources,” noted one respondent.

Survey takers were asked to identify potential applications that drones could be used for, with mapping taking the top spot. Also seeing interest were monitoring, search and rescue, delivery and public information uses.

When it comes to actually deploying drones, 86 percent of respondents said rules should be established that would ogovern humanitarian use of the technology. A majority noted the sector needs more experience overall with using the aircraft.

Source: "Drones in Humanitarian Action," 2016.
Source: “Drones in Humanitarian Action,” 2016.

Some emphasized the use of drones should not replace people on the ground and simply be used to improve their work.

“I believe drones can only aid staff monitoring and needs assessments, not replace them or shift decision-making,” a respondent wrote.

Survey participants noted they work in countries around the globe in areas such as water sanitation, food assistance, child protection and disaster risk reduction.

About 13 percent noted they were using drone’s as part of their organization’s activities while 38 percent said they had never used them but were interested in discovering more about them.