Hurricane Irma: U-Report works to protect children


Hurricane Irma: U-Report works to protect children

On 1 April 2016, a student uses a mobile phone in a classroom at Oswaldo Lucas Mendes Public High School in Taiobeiras municipality in the Southeastern state of Minas Gerais, Brazil.

Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country, by population and geographical area, with the eighth wealthiest economy. About 200 million people live in the country’s 5,565 municipalities and include 60 million children and adolescents of whom 51 per cent are boys and 49 per cent are girls. At the end of 2012, nearly half the population had access to the internet with nearly 21 million users ages 15-24 online with mobile phones and other devices with internet access. Brazil currently has 21 million adolescents aged 12-17, its largest adolescent population ever. With the rapid expansion of information and communication technologies, protecting children online is an urgent global priority. Children make up one-third of all Internet users globally. The lack of awareness of online safety, along with children’s natural inquisitiveness or an adolescent’s sexual curiosity and susceptibility to peer influence, predisposes them to online victimisation.  Children’s vulnerability to online sexual abuse and exploitation manifests itself in: cyberbullying and Internet harassment; exposure to sexually explicit content; sexting (sending and receiving sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone); sexual solicitation; and production of child sexual abuse material using children. Globally, the number of webpages that contained child sexual abuse material increased by 147 per cent from 2012 to 2014, with girls being more likely to be depicted in 81 per cent of these materials. Additionally, 91% of child sexual abuse material is non-commercial and being shared among online file-sharing networks.

In Brazil, sixty-two per cent of reported victims of violence against children and adolescents are girls and 60 per cent of reported cases occur at home, although violence against childre

U-Report is UNICEF’s groundbreaking, text-message based innovation that amplifies the voices and views of young people around the world.

The sun never sets on UNICEF – and when children are in danger, the global community leaps into action to protect them.

Saturday night Panama. Sunday morning Bangkok. Middle of the night in France. What do they have to do with a hurricane forming in the Caribbean? It means using every available UNICEF channel to get life-saving ‘be prepared’ messages through to those who may be affected, and doing it with no time lost.


U-Report is a platform that UNICEF and partners use to bring about social change. Usually, we use it to ask youth and adolescents their opinions which we share with partners, but when a natural disaster is on the horizon, we can activate it to send short, sharp, simple messages to those living in the path of the storm to help keep them and their families safe.

On Saturday night, Panama time, the alert comes from UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean regional office (LACRO) that a large hurricane is brewing. Some quick internal conversations via WhatsApp between the UNICEF Regional Advisor and U-Report LACRO Coordinator in Panama and it’s agreed that we should use U-Report to provide vital information. We need help from the Global Innovation Centre. A quick email or two later and the Bangkok office gets things going and gives the green light to promote with U-Report Global via Facebook in the countries in the path of Hurricane Irma – from St Kitts to Antigua, Haiti to Barbados, we want people to know basic life-saving information. And in this part of the world, that means having everything available in English, Spanish and French.

A few hours later, the U-Report Global Campaign Manager wakes up at 6am and starts to work on the alerts and gets them posted before Panama is awake. She then takes the messages that have been prepared by the Emergency Team at UNICEF LACRO and makes them ‘U-Report friendly’ before the U-Report Global Coordinator in Chile checks the Spanish and a coordinator in France translates into French.

It’s a global effort and it means that within 24 hours we’ve sent ‘how to stay safe’ messages to 2,500 people: 48 hours later, that number stood at 8,500.

Last night Panama time, between 9pm and midnight, a new U-Reporter was accessing information about Irma every 10 seconds. Irma is now a category 5 hurricane. That’s the highest storm category possible and could mean potential devastation to lives, building, and livelihoods. Through our Facebook alerts, UNICEF’s team is reaching more people in the crucial hours before the hurricane hits – each hour over a hundred more people choose to receive these messages about how to protect themselves.  It means that we’ll then be able to keep in touch with these U-Reporters and identify their needs if and when heavy rain, mudslides, tidal waves and exceptionally strong winds hit. Most importantly, it means we can do our work to help keep more children and adolescents safe.

We sometimes forget the power of the global community, but a global team allows us to respond quickly. U-Report Global aims to bring about social change and champions the very idea of a global community. As Hurricane Irma gathers force across the Atlantic, we hope it is kind to those in its path, and we hope that U-Reporters are able to use the information sent to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.