For residents in Uganda, we are aware that this is only a part of the much bigger problem but nowhere is this felt more than in the country’s rural areas. Poor road foundations and poorer drainage systems have made communities there an easy target every rainy season that appears and washes away boundaries, swallowing up the much needed road networks that facilitate the livelihoods of many.
Battered roads make it impossible for mid-size trucks heaped with banana plantain from rural areas to markets; effectively farmers and communities there cannot earn a living. If that wasn’t bad enough, the delivery of basic goods, bread, boxes of matches, and paraffin to these regions is slow and not always successful. As road network authorities haggle through bureaucratic systems to construct better roads, other parties are looking to how technology can address these issues.
Enter drones. The operation of unmanned aircrafts for emergency deliveries of blood, vaccines and medical supplies which has been running in Rwanda since 2016 and is soon to be underway in Tanzania, shows how new technologies are addressing poor delivery conditions in these countries. Zipline, the company operating the services says 25% of their deliveries are for emergencies, with the majority of their drop-offs supplementing the supply chain of medical goods around the country.
Imagine then the benefits that lay wait with expanding the use of drone technologies across sectors and in countries that require it the most. Due to a lack of proper transport facilities, a weak health and education service, economic growth in rural areas has been stunted. Diversifying the means by which drones can improve these conditions will amplify opportunities for people living in these areas.
The problem at present is that the capacity of drones in operation can only handle a fraction of the deliveries made by trucks. Is this any reason not to start utilizing the technology? A key to revolutionizing drone usage therefore lies in harnessing their capabilities in real life context.
In Rwanda the operation of the drones has enabled engineers on the Zipline team to improve the aerodynamics and battery design of the drone fleet in order for them to fly longer distances, faster while carrying heavier loads. Operating on ground has also allowed the company to develop innovative and efficient strategies that save time and energy.
The only way technologies can be utilized to develop rural access is if they are introduced into the systems and their uses are expanded for a wide number of resources. Companies like Amazon and Google are some of the heavy weights with stakes in creating a more resilient drone that can support their cargo businesses.
However these developments will not be felt for regions in developing countries where it is crucial to create alternative forms of delivery; much else to shape these developments for contexts that are dealing with exceptional conditions, for example being elevated high above sea-level or suffering from extreme weather conditions.
The recent mudslides in Sierra Leone and heavy downpour of rain in South Asia and the United States shows not only the fact that extreme weather conditions are global but that their effects are worse in countries with poor infrastructures. The opportunity for testing out drones provides hope that new technology can be effective in both emergency and developmental situations. For rural areas its worth every shot.
Article by Joanita Kente Tushabe
Joanita is a writer/journalist based in Kampala, Uganda. She recently graduated from Tsinghua University in China with a masters degree in business journalism. She covers developmental stories in African continent for Last 100 Miles .