Doing Good

Drone mapping aids humanitarian efforts in Rohingya refugee camps

August 15, 2023
Olivia McAlpine

In times of crisis, the intersection of technology and compassion can yield extraordinary solutions. Eno Umoh, founder of Global Air Drone Academy, found this to be true in 2017, when he traveled to the Rohingya Refugee Camp in Bangladesh, where tens of thousands of people crossed the 271 mile wide border every single day. 

Drones for disaster documentation

In 2017, Umoh joined forces with Global Outreach Doctors, initially serving as a drone team for the organization. Their role was primarily focused on capturing video footage for documentation. However, it was during a deployment in Puerto Rico that the team discovered the immense value of mapping and data collection in disaster zones. This realization marked a turning point, setting the stage for their future projects.

A call to action 

The unexpected call to action came when Umoh and his team were asked to assist in the Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, housing around 250,000 displaced individuals. Despite the challenges, Umoh was eager to lend a helping hand. The journey was long, involving an 11-hour flight to Bangladesh and many transfers. They found themselves in Cox's bazar, a town situated in the south of the country. The conditions were dire, with tens of thousands of new refugees crossing the border daily.

Collaborating closely with the medical teams on the ground, Umoh used his drone expertise to map out various areas within the camp. The dynamic nature of the situation demanded real-time data collection, and Umoh’s drone data provided accurate documentation. This information proved invaluable for setting up new areas in the camp and planning further interventions.

Mapping refugee camps for medical access

Communication was essential, especially with the medical groups on-site. Umoh’s team worked in close conjunction with doctors, ensuring that the collected data was aligned with their requirements. Reflecting on the experience, Umoh notes that the trip not only pushed his career forward but also cultivated a passion for projects that bring technology and humanitarian efforts together.

As a part of the team of drone pilots, Umoh discovered the importance of documenting the vast area of the camp using DroneDeploy to stitch their imagery into 2D orthomosaic maps. From there, the team was able to track elevation and site changes, which proved invaluable in the dense camp populations and ever-changing conditions. As a result, the doctors on site were able to provide more precise care.

One poignant memory from the trip was the impact of walking through the camp. Umoh recounts that the sheer magnitude of the refugee crisis hit him as he stood amidst a sea of people. While the work he was doing held promise, the realization that people were living in such conditions was sobering. "In the heart of adversity, drones aren't just tools; they're lifelines, bridging technology and humanity," said Umoh.

Using technology for impact 

Umoh has since pivoted his career to support projects that blend drone technology with humanitarian aid. He is currently working on projects in Nigeria geared towards agricultural purposes. 

Beyond individual projects, Umoh’s focus has shifted towards building a network of drone experts and consultants dedicated to implementing drones for societal good. Global Air Drone Academy is one of these projects;  a nonprofit organization aimed at nurturing the next generation of drone entrepreneurs. The academy guides students from a young age through licensing and into full-fledged entrepreneurship.

About Global Air Drone Academy 

Founded in 2016, Global Air Drone Academy is a nonprofit organization that aims to train the next generation of drone pilots and change the industry for the better. From Zimbabwe to the United Kingdom, Global Air has collaborated with a number of organizations to provide drone services for good. For those inspired by the power of drone technology and its capacity to change lives, Eno and his team offer a specialized drone business coaching program to help drone entrepreneurs and organizations implement projects that drive impact. Find out more here.

About the Author

Olivia McAlpine
Olivia McAlpine
Sales Development

Olivia McAlpine works at DroneDeploy helping users understand and grow their drone programs. She has a Bachelor's in Psychology from Loyola Marymount University. Olivia loves being involved with her community and has a deep personal connection to justice work.

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