TACOMA, Washington — Among modern technologies, drones are one of the most varied in terms of their functionality. From recreation to military operations, drones have a wide range of potential uses. In the past drones have been used in ethically questionable ways and we are right to be cautious about how they are implemented today. However, drones also have many positive potential uses when it comes to fighting global poverty. When used responsibly, drones have the potential to implement a three-pronged approach for using drones to combat poverty.
The Three-Pronged Approach for Using Drones to Combat Poverty
This three-pronged approach would allow drones to address global poverty at three key points: economic depression, food shortages and the spread of disease. These three focus areas are significant contributors to poverty worldwide, and modern drone technology is particularly well-equipped at dealing with them.
The first prong in this three-pronged approach is stimulating economic development as a counter to economic depression. An important part of raising poor communities out of poverty is by helping them to build up their economic infrastructure.
How Drones Can Help Legal Property Rights
However, building this infrastructure is not cheap. The cost of the materials needed to start a new business is only part of the challenge that many impoverished communities face. Obtaining the legal rights needed to effectively use their land to develop their small businesses is a hurdle that prevents people in many parts of the world from escaping poverty. As of 2016, around 70% of the world’s population was struggling to obtain formal land ownership documentation.
This is an especially pressing problem for people living in the Philippines, as nearly half of the property in this country does not have any official real estate title. Not having titles for their land prevents thousands of people living in the Philippines from receiving loans or making improvements on their properties since they have no official proof of ownership. As a result, these people have no legal recourse if they are forced out of their homes.
The Philippines’ land problem also hinders economic development in the region. Without legal proof of land ownership, many people in the Philippines cannot sell, lease or mortgage their properties. This has led to a lack of land development and a stagnant real estate sector, slowing economic growth in the region.
The high cost of conducting the kind of land survey needed for official titling means that many Philippine citizens have no way to obtain legal ownership of their land. However, the Asia Foundation is working to develop a drone program that will make land surveying far cheaper for these communities. By collecting data from areal photographs taken by the drones, the Asia Foundation’s drone program could offer a cost-effective solution to land surveying with an accuracy rate of 95%.
Mitigating Food Shortages With Drones
The second prong in the three-pronged approach for using drones to combat poverty is to use drones to mitigate food shortages. According to a 2015 U.N. report, nearly 690 million people worldwide experienced malnutrition. Since food scarcity is a problem that impoverished households often face, addressing food shortages is an important part of fighting poverty as a whole.
Over the past few years, drones have been looked at as a potential tool for fighting food shortages. Since 2018, Professor Jon Carroll of Oakland University has worked with USAID to use drones to fight hunger in Africa. Using “high-precision aerial photography,” Carroll and other researchers are able to gain a better picture of crop health and what might be causing crop failure in countries that are struggling with famines, such as Malawi. This allows researchers to develop more effective strategies for improving crop yield. Since nearly 80% of Malawi’s population are farmers, low crop yields can be disastrous for the country. With funding from USAID, Carroll’s program has the potential to save millions of lives in Malawi alone.
Using Drones to Reduce the Spread of Disease
The third prong in the three-pronged approach to combating poverty with drones would be to use drones to reduce the spread of disease among impoverished communities. Countries such as Rwanda and Ghana have already implemented drone programs to deliver vital medical supplies to communities in need.
A drone company called Zipline has been working with leaders in Rwanda and Ghana since 2016 to develop drone delivery systems for the two countries. As of June 2020, Zipline has been providing more than 40 Rwandan patients suffering from cancer and leukemia with essential medical supplies. In Ghana, Zipline drones are being used to collect COVID-19 test samples and deliver them to medical facilities for testing. This method of delivery is much quicker and more cost-effective than other traditional methods.
Although this three-pronged approach for using drones to fight poverty addresses three important areas of poverty reduction, it is not a comprehensive solution to ending poverty. Lack of access to education and jobs, warfare and social inequality are also significant causes of poverty, and there is no guarantee that drone programs alone will be able to solve the global poverty problem. However, the examples given show the effectiveness and versatility that drones can provide when developing strategies for fighting global poverty.