Voices of Youth mappers discuss the geospatial locations of environmental hazards they identified in their community. The information is aggregated on Voices of Youth Maps and shared with local duty bearers. © UNICEF/CEDAPS
Voices of Youth mappers discuss the geospatial locations of environmental hazards they identified in their community. The information is aggregated on Voices of Youth Maps and shared with local duty bearers. © UNICEF/CEDAPS

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.

In 2011 UNICEF staff in New York and Rio de Janeiro joined with a team of digital innovators, government officials, community leaders and other partners on a mission:  to train young people to create maps which depicted the social and environmental risks in their surroundings using UNICEF-GIS. This cutting-edge mapping platform enables real-time data collection through web and mobile applications. In 2011 the first training of young digital mappers took place in Prazeres with UNICEF, the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science and the MIT Mobile Experience Lab.

Adolescents use mobile phones loaded with UNICEF-GIS to photograph problems; the photos are automatically tagged with global positioning system (GPS) coordinates, enabling researchers and officials to pinpoint the problem areas. The adolescents then use 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. This process of training youth to map and participate in the improvement of their neighborhoods is Voices of Youth Maps, a UNICEF initiative which promotes the use of digital mapping to empower young people.

For more information: www.voicesofyouth.org/maps

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