The Government of Malawi and UNICEF are partnering on a new drone initiative to gauge how effective unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are in supporting humanitarian efforts.

The UAV testing corridor in Malawi is the first project of its type on the African continent. This pilot is expected to run for at least a year.

“Malawi has limited road access to rural areas even at the best of times, and after a flash flood earth roads can turn to rivers, completely cutting off affected communities,” said UNICEF Malawi Representative Johannes Wedenig. “With UAVs we can easily fly over the affected area and see clearly what the impact has been on the ground. This is cheaper and better resolution than satellite images.”

Located in central Malawi, the corridor will have three main areas of focus: imagery – for development and to monitor areas suffering natural disasters, including floods and earthquakes; connectivity – to assess how good drones are in rolling out Wi-Fi cover; and transport – for delivering smaller items and vital medical supplies, like vaccines.

“Malawi has over the years proved to be a leader in innovation and it is this openness to innovation that has led to the establishment of Africa’s first drones testing corridor here in Malawi,” added Malawi’s Minister of Transport and Public Works, Jappie Mhango.

A number of companies, universities and NGOs have already expressed their interest in using the corridor.