101Reporters Desk | Aug 17, 2018 | 5 min read
Bengaluru: Jithin James Pallipatt, a Keralite studying in Gujarat, was shocked to hear that his family was stranded in Kerala with no supplies or means of transport. Three families, comprising 15 people, were stuck in a house, with water level constantly rising in the Meloor district of Thrissur in southern Kerala.
To seek help for his family, Jithin joined Twitter for the first time and started tweeting, pleading for assistance. Though his multiple appeals, retweeted by many, bore no results for more than two days, his family was eventually found and is now safe.
Jithin is among the many people who turned towards social media platforms to seek help for their family members stranded in what is being termed as Kerala’s worst floods in over a century. On Friday evening, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the deluge had left at least 324 people dead and displaced over 2.2 lakh others.
The magnitude of disaster brought together digital giants like Twitter, Facebook, Google, WhatsApp and Amazon to aid rescue and rehabilitation. Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, particularly, have been useful in disseminating emergency contacts, SOS messages and immediate location of those stuck in the calamity.
Celebrities pitch in too
When IPS officer Rema Rajeshwari, who is currently posted in Telangana, received a text message from her family in Munnar, she was left worried. Due to heavy flooding in the town, her family was stranded without any electricity or cellphone services. They managed to send photos to her through WhatsApp, which she further shared with friends and family. The officer said that her entire home town was isolated due to heavy rain, making any transportation difficult. After a challenging few hours, they were safely shifted to an ancestral house in Munnar by her other kin.
While the Army, Navy and Airforce, along with local fisherman communities, activists and volunteers are working tirelessly to rescue people, social media is playing an important role in collecting donations and other necessary requirements in camps.
Using hashtags like #KeralaFloods, #KeralaRelief, celebrities, influencers and people of authority have been raising awareness about the floods by posting important helpline numbers, sharing safe locations, and urging people to donate cash and other necessary items.
Actor Siddharth even launched a ‘Kerala Donation Challenge’ asking people to donate generously. “Please post your donation proof online if you wish to inspire others to do the same. Let us call this the #KeralaDonationChallenge. We all know how much the internet loves a challenge,” he wrote in a statement.
Digital solutions prove critical
Authorities have also been using the internet and social media to assist those in need. While the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority put up mobile numbers asking people to send their locations on WhatsApp, the state government used Google Maps to create the option of letting citizens upload their locations where help is needed, simplifying the process of rescue operations.
Keralarescue.in is another initiative by the state government which allows people to seek or offer relief. By visiting the website, one can request for help, make a donation, find a relief centre, get important contact information, and/or volunteer for their services.
Along with the state government, common people too are relying on digital solutions to help the flood-hit state. A group of freelancers across Twitter have designed a platform on Google Maps that compiles and provides verified locations for shelter, rescue, food and water, volunteers, helpline, relief collection, transportation, medicines and more across Kerala.
Google’s Person Finder is an ideal tool in disasters like floods, where there are numerous people on the lookout for any scrap of information about their family and friends. The option allows to either find, or provide information about someone.
A reporter on ground also stated that the Navy and Airforce are using social media platforms to coordinate with people and initiate rescue operations. It is estimated that around 1.5 lakh individuals have been rescued through these channels, though exact figures are not yet known.
Using Google location and tracking, they have been able to gain proximity to even remote locations. However, a major concern is lack of electricity due to which people are unable to charge their phones and use the services
Waseem Memon, founder of Bengaluru-based NGO ‘Drive Without Borders’, affirmed that social media can be effectively utilised during such situations. “During the 2015 Chennai floods, we raised nearly Rs 28 lakh as contribution. We are currently doing the same for Kerala floods as well.”
Memon’s Facebook groups have a large number of followers. “When I called for donations towards the fund for Kerala floods, we received an impressive amount within just few days,” he said adding that donations came in kind as well.
“We were looking for multiple boxes of antiseptic soaps, anti-fungal creams and powders, undergarments for men and women, sanitary napkins, clothing for children, bedsheets, blankets and pillows. We have boxes coming in from all across Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and more,” he said. “In fact, we have people who are requesting to travel to Kerala and assist in any possible manner.”
Faseeh Ahmed, a student at Hyderabad Central University (HCU), had a similar experience when he started a fundraiser at his campus.
“We called for money, and other donations of material value on social media and also via WhatsApp,” Ahmed said adding that they didn’t anticipate the extensive response. “Students from other universities across Hyderabad like IIT and EFLU came forward to contribute towards the Kerala floods along with some volunteers from NGOs and mosques,” he said.
The funds and donations received were meant to be transported by train via Mangaluru to Wayanad, Kerala. Since incessant rain halted all rail services, donations are now being sent by road. Google Maps is turning out to be helpful in finding relief camps, and supplying the necessities to survivors.
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