How Drones are Helping in Haiti

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Orthomosaics like these helped IOM conduct a census in Haiti. Source: IOM

Haiti is both one of the poorest and one of the most disaster prone countries in the world. In addition to the devastating 2010 earthquake and the subsequent cholera outbreak, the country is regularly hit by hurricanes which frequently trigger landslides and floods that wash away whole neighborhoods.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is one of the organizations that has been supporting people in Haiti for many years, particularly those who have been displaced from their homes and now live in one the many camps in the capital Port-au-Prince. To improve their programs IOM has invested early in drones. The organization bought a Sensefly Swinglet Fixed Wing drone that is kept in Haiti and has trained staff in the use of the tool. This enables IOM to respond much faster than other organizations that first need to bring UAVs and trained personnel to a disaster area.

Evolution of a camp in Haiti over time. Source: IOM
Evolution of a camp in Haiti over time. Source: IOM

Important tool for camp management

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) first used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Haiti in early 2012 to help establish how many people lived in seven camps that IOM was managing. IOM had originally considered this to a one-off initiative, but eventually decided to monitor the camps continuously. In the years that followed, the UAV became a well established tool to monitor the more than 40 rapidly evolving camps around the country. As many of these camps were growing or shrinking in size over time, being able to get a bird’s eye view meant that decision makers were better able to respond to the needs of the camp inhabitants.

 

Damage assessment

The Grey River around camp St.Etienne. The blue line is the camp boundary, orange is the riverbank before Sandy, in red the riverbank immediately after  Sandy. Black is the projected wall to be built by IOM to protect the camp from future floods. Source: IOM
The Grey River around camp St.Etienne. The blue line is the camp boundary, orange is the riverbank before Sandy, in red the riverbank immediately after Sandy. Black is the projected wall to be built by IOM to protect the camp from future floods. Source: IOM

IOM was also quick to use of the drones when Hurricane Sandy struck Haiti in 2012. After three days of continuous rain, the Grey river in Port-au-Prince burst its banks and destroyed many homes. At least 54 people died during the storm. As drones are not limited by cloud cover, the UAVs could be deployed quickly once the storm had passed and were able to complete mapping seven days before the first satellite images became available. IOM and the OpenStreetMap Community of Haiti (COSMHA) then used the drone imagery to assess the extend of the damage by comparing before and after images of the flooded areas. This allowed analysts to determine where assistance was most urgently needed. As a final step, IOM used the data, together with historic satellite imagery, to calculate which areas were at high risk of future flooding. This was then used to plan a protection wall to protect at risk communities in the future.

 

Over the next months, Droneblog will feature summaries of case studies that show how drones are already being used in disaster response operations worldwide. The case studies were produced under the leadership of the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) and with funding from EU Humanitarian Aid. The goal of this research initiative is to identify use cases in which cases drones can improve the quality or increase the efficiency of humanitarian aid.

You can find more information about this and other case studies on http://drones.fsd.ch/

 

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