Kerala floods: how people pitched in with relief work

These cyber warriors from Thiruvananthapuram are working relentlessly updating details about relief camps

When low-lying areas in Thiruvananthapuram were submerged following heavy rain, nearly 50 relief camps were set up across the district. Syed Shiyaz Mirza, Premsankar Chakkingal and their group of volunteers took it upon themselves to collect essential items for the people in these camps. But that was just the beginning. Within a day or so, they felt the need for order and structure, and so listed down details on camps and the demand and supply of essential materials such as food, clothes and medicines to these camps.

The Excel sheet formed one of the first databases with over 60 volunteers updating information about the relief camps.

“On Shiyaz’s Facebook page, he had posted photos of mats being collected for the camps. Many of us in the group too wanted to donate things. So we personally went to the camps to get a list of items needed. But we soon understood that it was not easy to cover the camps within a day and that realisation made us think about a system to address the situation,” says Premsankar, a research scholar at the Department of Future Studies, University of Kerala, for whom camp management is a subject of special interest.

So, they put up a Facebook post seeking volunteers to take relief supplies to the camps and coordinate relief measures. Quickly, about 40 people became a part of the venture. “We distributed relief materials worth ₹2.5 lakh in the beginning, covering camps in far-flung areas such as Amboori. We had a mentor in Mini Mohan, a social activist,” says Shiyaz, principal of a vocational higher secondary school, vlogger and tech expert.

The group, eventually named Trivandrum Relief Team, updated details such as name of the camp, location, taluk, total number of people, families, men, women, children and the geo location on Excel sheets. “We were concentrating on camps in Thiruvananthapuram only. It was overwhelming to see how youngsters came forward to lend a helping hand. We asked them to coordinate the back-office work, by filling in details,” explains Premsankar.

With the capital city being spared the worst of the floods, when compared to many other places in Kerala, the group started working in association with other clusters formed on social media across Kerala and offline teams that were on ground round the clock, attending to rescue operations and collecting relief materials. They fed information to keralarescue.in, an initiative of the Government of Kerala, Kerala State IT Mission and IEEE Kerala for communication amongst the authorities, volunteers and the public with details about rescue help, relief camps, needs at each camp and collection centres, volunteer registration, and Google maps, along with other information.

As the situation worsened, turning from grim to devastating, most volunteers ended uo going without sleep for many days, spending hours on the laptop or mobile phone.

At present, they are collating details from other districts. Premsankar, a native of Thrissur, is coordinating activities of his home town as well. “It is heartbreaking to know that there were many camps that have not yet been listed in the database prepared by the district administration. It is difficult to reach these places. Many students who came forward as our volunteers went there in person. Whenever their phones ran out of balance, we recharged them from here. There is shortage of essential items in many camps and we are putting in the best we can,” says Premsankar.

Meanwhile, there have been stupendous efforts from the employees in Technopark. Prathidhwani, a forum for techies, launched a portal keralaneeds.com and was later approached by the district administration for inventory and supply management. Techies have been working round the clock at B-hub, Nalanchira, updating the quantity of things arriving and being supplied from various collection centres.

Athira M.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 11:37:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/these-cyber-warriors-from-thiruvananthapuram-are-working-relentlessly-updating-details-about-relief-camps/article24759305.ece

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