Drones can help humanitarian efforts, but they come with baggage. Experts weigh in.
If someone gets ill in Contanama, Peru—a remote village in the Amazon rainforest—the nearest pharmacy is 50 miles away. The journey takes six hours by road. But medicines can be delivered by a small drone—or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)—to the local doctor in 35 minutes.
This technological breakthrough, like many others in history, was originally designed for use in war. Developed by the United States and the United Kingdom during the Iraq conflict, drones are becoming a mainstay of organizations delivering humanitarian aid to remote developing world communities. For example, last month drones surveyed the damage from coastal flooding in Peru, sending video footage otherwise too difficult to obtain.
The same month, President Donald Trump rolled back rules in order to make drone strikes even easier, including lowering the threshold for civilian casualties and pushing against the theology behind just war theory. Punctuating this shift from Obama-era policies, a disputed drone strike in Syria killed 42 people in mid-March. (The US government says it killed al Qaeda militants, while activists and local residents maintain that it attacked civilians at a mosque.)
Christians have debated whether drones should be used in war at all. The wartime reputation of drones means they are not always welcomed in aid efforts either.
In 2015, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal killed 900 people. Fifteen different international teams used drones to respond. But legal issues and perceptions by local communities hindered their effectiveness.
“At one point in the beginning of May , it looked like the Nepalese government was heading towards a complete shutdown of drone operations across the airspace,” wrote …