Malawi and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) launched an air corridor Thursday to test the effectiveness of drones in humanitarian emergencies and other development uses, the first project of its kind in Africa.
Landlocked Malawi, which suffers periodic crop failures and is prone to floods, is frequently in need of food and other aid, and limited road access in many of its rural areas makes it difficult to get help to needy communities.
"Drone technology has many potential applications. ... One that we have already tested in Malawi is to transport infant blood samples to laboratories for HIV testing," UNICEF Malawi Resident Representative Johannes Wedenig said at the launch in Kasungu, 100 km (60 miles) from the capital Lilongwe.
The test corridor is centered at the Kasungu Aerodrome, with a 40-kilometer radius and focusing on three areas: generating aerial images of crisis situations, using drones to extend Wi-Fi or mobile phone signals across difficult terrain in emergencies, and delivering low-weight emergency supplies.
"The launch of the testing corridor is particularly important to support transportation and data collection where land transport infrastructure is either not feasible or difficult during emergencies," Malawian Minister of Transport Jappie Mhango told Reuters.