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In Brazil, adolescents use UNICEF's new digital mapping technology to reduce disaster risks in the favelas

© UNICEF Brazil/2012/Caffe
Michael Gomes Correia, 18, is part of a group of young people in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who are using kites and mobile technology to map socio-environmental risks in their communities.

By Maria Estela Caparelli, Ludmilla Palazzo and Rhazi Kone

UNICEF’s flagship report, ‘The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World’, was launched on 28 February, focusing attention on children in urban areas. One billion children live in urban areas, a number that is growing rapidly. Yet disparities within cities reveal that many lack access to schools, health care and sanitation, despite living alongside these services. This story is part of a series highlighting the needs of these children.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, 19 March 2012 – Ten years ago, Michael Gomes Correia used to love flying kites with his friends in the Prazeres community, one of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Now, the 18-year-old student is using kites – and mobile technology – to map the favelas’ socio-environmental risks and to improve the lives of children and families in his community.

Located just above sea level, Rio de Janeiro is vulnerable to floods and landslides, natural disasters that are expected to increase with climate change. The city’s favelas are largely situated along mountainsides, and are already prone to both disasters and socio-environmental risks, such as poor infrastructure. In recent years, heavy rains have caused hundreds of causalities and destroyed houses in favelas like Morro dos Prazeres, where Michael lives.

In response, UNICEF, with the support of the Municipality of Rio, the Municipal Secretariat of Health and Civil Defense, and Centro de Promoção da Saúde (CEDAPS), has developed a youth-led mapping project in which adolescents are engaged to identify social and environmental risks in their communities.

Helping avert disaster

UNICEF, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) and the Innovative Support to Emergencies Diseases and Disasters (InSTEDD), developed a cutting-edge mapping platform that enables real-time data collection through web and mobile applications.

In the pilot initiative, 111 youth in five low-income communities – Morro dos Prazeres, Morro dos Macacos, Morro do Borel, Morro do Urubu and Rocinha – were trained to use this programme, known as UNICEF- Geographic Information System (GIS), to assess the risks and vulnerabilities in their neighbourhoods.

© Charles Siqueira/GAL Mosaico
The youth mappers mobilized their community in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to clean accumulated garbage in high-risk areas, helping to prevent landslides and health hazards.

They used mobile phones loaded with UNICEF-GIS to photograph problems; the photos were automatically tagged with global positioning system (GPS) coordinates, enabling researchers and officials to pinpoint the problem areas. The adolescents then used cameras attached to kites to gather aerial images, helping to identify the presence or absence of drainage systems, the availability of sanitation facilities, impediments to evacuation, and other issues.  

A promising start

In February, UNICEF, the youth mappers and partners presented their findings to local authorities from the Municipal Secretariat of Health and Civil Defense, the Urban Planning Secretariat, the Health Promotion Policy Coordination, the Environmental Education Coordination, and research and academic institutions.

With the mapping results, the adolescents were able to mobilize the Morro dos Prazeres community to clean accumulated garbage in high-risk areas, helping to prevent landslides and a variety of health hazards. They also advocated for the repair of the UGA-UGA Bridge, which has since been fixed.

The initiative will be expanded to five other communities in 2012. The programme, and the lessons learned from it, will also be used to create a national model for youth-led community mapping.
For adolescents like Michael, this has been a promising start. “We need to believe,” he said. “Make it happen and changes will come. This is the idea.”



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