EFEApalit, Philippines

Only after the worst part of a natural disaster has passed can the agricultural damage be assessed - often through inaccessible terrain.

Now, countries like the Philippines have begun to rely on drones to assess areas that may not be accessible from the ground.

Over the last few months, a small team of people has been responsible for piloting these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in order to respond to any natural disasters in the country - one of the Asian countries most susceptible to natural disasters.

Zaida Manglicmot, Voltaire Ignacio and Jaime Reyes, all under 35, are three experts chosen by the Department of Agriculture for their UAV skills and knowledge, to operate drones in disaster areas in order to assess damaged areas.

After requiring just two training flights to qualify to operate in disaster-affected areas, the trio were last at work in October 2016 after Typhoons Heima and Sarika caused several deaths and property damage in the northern part of the country.

Manglicmot told Efe that the team visited that area a week later to evaluate the typhoon damage firsthand and found that 90 percent of the area was destroyed.

While Manglicmot uses a computer and satellite connection to plan the drone's route, Ignacio delicately pilots it and Reyes directs its trajectory, while making sure everything is operational.

"I have liked planes since I was little," says Ignacio, an information technology specialist who is passionate about this work - "although that means a disaster has occurred".

The team are currently using two devices, one with propellers to document the damage with high resolution photography and video, and another fixed-wing model capable of evaluating the current state of crops as well as mapping the affected area.

Flying at an altitude of up to 200 meters, the drones can stay aloft for up to half an hour, enough to cover 200 hectares per trip. For now they only operate over flat ground, for fear of sudden crosswinds endemic to mountainous terrain.

Both drones have been provided by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which is supporting the Philippines Government in its strategy for managing and reducing disaster risks and adapting to climate change.

Although, for the time being, the drones are only used after disasters, the idea is to ultimately utilize them to mitigate risks before disasters, such as floods, affect an area.

by Belén Delgado