Unmanned aerial drones are helping protect farming and fishing communities in the Philippines from the impacts of natural disasters and climate change.
Is this new technology the future of disaster response and the way forward for how communities that are most exposed adapt to sudden extreme weather events, preventing hunger and loss of livelihood?
Risk assessment is faster and more efficient with drones
With natural disasters becoming more frequent and intense in a country already vulnerable to floods and typhoons, drone technology has increased the capacity for information gathering.
Capable of covering up to 6000 hectares a day, the drones significantly accelerate risk analysis and damage assessment, meaning farmers can receive much-needed assistance far sooner. While humans can assess seven hectares per day, fixed-wing drones can cover areas of 200 hectares in just half an hour.
In November 2013 Super Typhoon Yolanda devastated large areas in Southeast Asia. The Philippines was hit particularly hard, destroying towns and cities, but also severely impacting poor farming and fishing communities, who lost income, livestock and crops.
Drones are helping to map landscapes and mitigate natural disasters
In the agriculture sector, it can be a challenge to design interventions for vulnerable and affected communities without timely and reliable information showing the extent of agricultural systems at risk and strategies to counter them.
Field staff across the country have deployed drones to assess the impact of disasters ranging from typhoons to pest outbreaks. Drone use has already prevented heavy losses due to the flooding of rice paddies and mitigated damage from a pest outbreak on coconut plantations. If and when another Yolanda strikes the Philippines, drones could soften the typhoon’s impact on the food-production sector.
After the success in the Philippines, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is expanding the use of drones to Myanmar, where there are plans to use drones to plant mangrove trees, which have dwindled radically due to deforestation and land conversion. Mangroves are an effective natural defence against storms and flooding. They also prevent shoreline erosion, boost fish stocks and stop salt water from invading farmland.
FAO video report on the story