Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Drones are being used for good by Medair, a relief organisation, to create maps of typhoon- devastated areas in the Philippines.
Medair, an international relief agency, together with Drone Adventures, a non-profit organisation that promotes the humanitarian use of drones, used the devices to take hundreds of high-resolution aerial images of Tacloban, Dulag and Julita – towns which have been severely affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan.
The team then merged the images to create detailed 2D maps and 3D terrain models before distributing them for free to community leaders.
Many communities have been relying on hand-drawn or out-of-date Google maps taken before the typhoon to coordinate recovery efforts. The new maps provide the communities with a more detailed overview of reconstruction work.
This is the first time Medair has used drones to help in their relief and recovery work.
“Drones do not have a good reputation. People associate them with the military and think of them as weapons, but they can also be used for good,” said Rob Fielding, Medair's Technology and Innovation Officer. “We are using the images taken by the drones to carry out damage assessments, to identify land that could be safer to relocate families to and to see where recovery efforts are taking place. Relief organisations are increasingly using drones to provide services not otherwise possible, and we intend to use them in response to future emergencies.”
The maps are available for free online, enabling community leaders and humanitarian organisations to use the information to coordinate reconstruction efforts.The maps can also be used for town planning and hazard mapping.
"There are many complicated issues involved in the recovery,” said Alfred Romualdez, Tacloban City's Mayor. “The maps produced by these drones give all actors involved in the recovery a common reference point when addressing these issues."
Joel Kaiser, Medair’s Emergency Response Officer, was part of the team launching the drones. "The imagery the drones are able to collect is amazingly accurate,” said Joel. “Think Google Earth times 10. As such, the maps we distributed are the nearest geographic representation of these communities that has ever been possible. Some barangay councils we visited were relying on hand-drawn maps. They were really energised to receive a new map from us that showed their town site in so much detail.”
One of the maps was given to the community of Cabacungan, near Dulag, in Leyte Province.
“Before, we had an overview of our barangay with a large data sheet from 1999 but it was destroyed by the typhoon,” said Cabacungan barangay Captain Ma’am Evelyn. “Now we can better plan and show which households need help.”
Medair is currently assisting recovery efforts in Dulag by training carpenters and providing materials to help people build stronger shelters. The images taken by the drones will help the organisation determine the greatest ongoing needs and the most appropriate assistance for affected families as they continue to recover.
Medair responded within 24 hours to the Philippines crisis in November 2013.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Abigail Woodcock, Press Relations Officer (English), Abigail.Woodcock@medair.org, +41 (0)21 694 84 72 or +41 (0)78 635 30 95.
Photos and maps are available on our photo library. All images should be credited to Medair. Please click here.
The eBee fixed-wing drones used in this project are made by Swiss company SenseFly. They weigh just 0.7kg and have a wingspan of 96cm. Reconstruction and generation of 2D and 3D models is done using software by Swiss company Pix4D. For more information, go to www.sensefly.com
Drone Adventures promotes the potential use of drones in civilian life, focusing on conservation, humanitarian, cultural and search and rescue use. For more information about Drone Adventures, go to www.droneadventures.org
For more information about Medair's activities in the Philippines and an overview of Medair’ financial supporters for this programme, click here.
Medair is a member of the global Integral Alliance, a network that is committed to increasing the capacity and quality of a united disaster response among partnering humanitarian organisations.