The empty airfield, while devoid of planes, feels full of life and excitement. The breeze keeps a tattered orange wind sock moving. And in the distance, the sounds of young people playing at a nearby school fills the air, reminding everyone why we're here.
One of the first things I learnt about Malawi right after arriving in this beautiful country was that it prone to floods and drought. In the first week of March, heavy rains fell across much of the country. It was bad enough where I live in Lilongwe, in the central region, but then reports started coming in from the south, saying that vast areas along the Shire river had been flooded, leaving thousands of people without a home.
On a hot and windy day in Kasungu, a drone operator prepares his flying machine for an important project. Joined by officers from the government’s Department of Agriculture and staff from three United Nations agencies, the operator steers the drone high into the clear blue sky. From its vantage point, the drone captures dozens of images of local crop fields.
At 12 years old, Innocent Katiya might seem a little young to be an engineer. But the years he’s spent at Nankhali Primary School have given him all the qualifications he needs to help design the school’s new classroom block.
Rural and semi-urban areas tend to be disadvantaged when compared to their urban counterparts. Poor sanitation, poor hygiene, school dropout rates, and poverty in general, are greater. A 2003 study, Urban-Rural Inequality in Living Standards in Africa, found that living standards in rural communities lag behind urban communities. The study found many more boys go to school than girls. Unfortunately, young girls are married off or remain at home to perform on household chores.
The day began as usual. I woke up at 6:30 am to get ready for work. An hour or so later, I arrived in Area 24 to join my colleagues, and try to stop the spread of cholera in the area.
Area 24 is a crowded township located on the boundary between Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe, and the surrounding rural district.
Our task for the day was simple: to locate, photograph and mark on a Google map all the nearby sanitation and hygiene facilities including toilets, water points and dumpsites.
In the middle of a muddy field next to a reservoir in Kasungu District, a team of scientists are hard at work. Boxes of equipment lie scattered around a patch of dry ground, where Lancaster University’s Michelle Stanton programmes an automated drone flight into a laptop perched on a metal box. With a high-pitched whirr of rotor blades, the drone takes off and starts following the shoreline, taking photos as it goes.
The technical capabilities of drone platforms are evolving by the day and a growing number of drone operators and manufacturers understand that their products and services will not only change the way business is done in industrialized countries; but they will - maybe even more so - revolutionize a number of working areas in the developing world!