Humanitarian aid by air as drone services take off in Africa.

In the list of technologies revolutionising the delivery of aid, drones are rising up the ranks. Small, light and affordable, they have become a vital tool for transporting vaccines to rural areas, tracking disease outbreaks, and speeding disaster response.

In Africa, a continent prone to natural disasters and with underdeveloped infrastructure, drones are helping tackle the challenge of ‘last-mile delivery’. Drone firm Zipline, for example, began operations there in 2016, and now runs programmes in countries including Rwanda and Ghana, distributing blood and lifesaving drugs to health facilities in far-flung communities.

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Other innovative schemes are using data collected by UAVs to map and mitigate against droughts, crop failures and other shocks, or to assess the needs of communities caught in natural disasters.

In January, Africa gained its first drone academy, aimed at building local expertise in the use of drones for humanitarian, development projects. Based in the Malawian capital, Lilongwe, the UNICEF-backed institute plans to train 150 students to build and pilot drones by 2021.

The first cohort graduated in March, taking the continent a step closer to developing the homegrown capacity it needs to help transform crisis response and prevention. — PA