Drone technology: the humanitarian potential

The use drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), to carry out targeted killings in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen has been one of the most controversial aspects of the ‘global war on terror’. Al Qaeda commanders and operatives have been ‘eliminated’ in remote drone operations that have also caused numerous civilian casualties. Doubts about the supposed efficiency of this technology must be added to others regarding the legality of their use according to international law. Nevertheless, drones seem to be here to stay.

The use of drones is widening in scope alongside technological developments, but their purposes are multiple. They are not always weapons systems; currently drones are a tool to monitor and track illegal drug routes in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and their use is rising in other areas. Two of them are especially relevant in conflict and post-conflict settings: the possible use of drones as a tool in peacebuilding missions and in humanitarian action.

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Drones for activist organizations?

Let me briefly address another potential use of drones. This is an scenario developed in the framework of WIKISTRAT Simulation “The Future of Drones“.


This scenario simulates the use of drones by humanitarian and activist organizations across hostile borders. Sounds like science fiction? Maybe but it is not, or it probably will be not in the near future. Insights from the scenario:

“Where humanitarian, human rights and other activist organizations are banned, cannot safely operate due to volatile security or environmental conditions, or are heavily restricted from operating in a distressed country, this scenario sees drones being deployed to deliver humanitarian and other necessary supplies to communities, organizations, and local activists.

Drones, in this instance, are used by humanitarian and other activist groups to deliver small but important cargoes across borders that are either hostile (e.g. Korean DMZ), heavily restricted (i.e. the group is banned from the country) or otherwise too dangerous due to ongoing conflict or hazardous environmental conditions. The cargoes delivered via drones by these organizations are at first not likely to exceed several kilograms and as such are likely to focus on small items intended to alleviate targeted humanitarian needs (e.g. medicines, chlorination tablets, or seeds), assist the activities of local activist organizations (e.g. phones, computers, information or money), or engage in monitoring activities.”

Wish to read more? Read the simulation in Insights from the Wiki!