Nepal suffered its worst earthquake in 80 years on April 25, 2015. The country was hit by a 7.8-magnitude quake that has lead to widespread destruction and a death toll that could reach 10,000.
The Asian nation has a very limited infrastructure, which has been pushed beyond its breaking point, and numerous countries around the world have pledged immediate aid and supplies. Humanitarian groups such as the Red Cross, Oxfam, CARE and Save the Children are working to provide shelter, clean water, sanitation and emergency food supplies.
Nepal has a shortage of manned helicopters, so drones are helping to fill the gap. Drones are being used for aerial photography and to map areas affected by the earthquake. That information will be passed on to aid crews and rescue workers on the ground.
The imagery captured by drones will be processed into 3D models of the terrain below. These 3D models will give responders more detailed information about the destruction than traditional 2D maps.
The rough terrain of Nepal and the weather are major factors for the use of drones. The small UAVs can cover a large area more quickly than ground-based surveys, and satellite visibility is an issue in Nepal, especially over the last few days due to overcast conditions and communication lines being down.
Rahul Singh, director of the charity Global Medic, says drones make delivery of aid more efficient by getting everyone more information. “We can tell you what roads are out, where landslides occurred, where you’re blocked, we can figure out where people are taking refuge,” he says.
So where are all the drones coming from? All over the world, actually. Global Medic, based in Canada, has already begun flying UAVs in the disaster area, and India has announced its sending drones as well. More international teams of drone pilots are headed to Nepal, where they will conduct aerial surveys of areas identified as a high priority by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and UNICEF.
The Humanitarian UAV Network, also known as UAViators, is organizing more international teams to help in the relief efforts. Team Rubicon, staffed by U.S. military veterans, is already in Nepal with drones in tow. And as of Tuesday, teams from the U.S. drone startup SkyCatch and drone services provider Halo Drop were en route to Nepal, too, according to reports.
Amateur drone footage in the video below, filmed a day after the Nepal earthquake, shows a moving bird’s-eye view of the devastation in Kathmandu.