Editor's note: Described as one of the worst since 1924 by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the rains in Kerala have left over 350 dead and rendered thousands of people homeless. According to the latest tally, 80,000 have been rescued so far. Over 1,500 relief camps have been set up across the state that currently house at least 2,23,139 people. In a multi-part series, Firstpost will attempt to analyse the short-term and long-term impact of these unprecedented floods on the lives of the people, economy of the state, and the environment.
A year ago — on 16 September, 2017 to be precise — US territory Puerto Rico was struck by Hurricane Maria that killed some 3,000 people. Puerto Rico is still struggling to get $139bn in federal help. But before the billions came, the balloons did.
Under Project Loon, Google’s parent company Alphabet launched helium balloons over Puerto Rico to restore internet connectivity destroyed by Maria. It helped about a lakh people connect with the outside world. Only then followed help from corporate giants and relief organisations.
Puerto Rico is a good, recent example of what technology and internet could do to aid rescue and relief work when a disaster strikes. Kerala has now become another example, perhaps a better one.
No balloons went up in Kerala, and even drones that are increasingly common in search and rescue operations during disasters were put to limited use. But the people of Kerala, more than its government, deployed what is by now a basic technology tool: social media. Even the good old ham radio came in handy for those willing to help.
Power of social media
Helpful citizens used social media to communicate to the rest of India and the world, effectively and in no uncertain terms, the real enormity of the damage, spurring a huge volunteer force into action within the state. Teams from the army, navy and other states like Odisha did a remarkable job rescuing marooned people, but local volunteer groups, especially fishermen, proved exemplary on the ground.
And in what will no doubt be a model worth replicating, the same volunteer spirit is now helping crowdfund the mammoth rebuilding effort that will soon be underway.
Contributions totalling as much as Rs 1,032 crore have poured into the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF).
Social media has widely publicised the different ways in which contributions can be made to the fund. Though amounts small as well as big have been coming into the account from across the country, it is primarily the well-known inclination of Malayalees to help fellow Malayalees in trouble that is at its best. Small donations amounting to Rs 43 crore that came into CMDRF through Paytm are a fair indication of how sympathetic people are contributing their mite.
This may pale into insignificance, considering the gigantic reconstruction that the state needs and what it costs. One out of every two villages in Kerala was inundated, affecting one out of every six person in the state. While official toll stands at 483, about a lakh buildings were fully or partially damaged. The destruction took in its sweep some 96,000 kilometre of roads, 220 bridges and 57,000 hectares of agricultural land. The state’s famed tourism sector, one of its primary sources of revenue, is in a shambles. Thousands of people have lost their sources of livelihoods. The state pegs its total loss at Rs 20,000 crore for the time being.
People invite quick help
But thanks to the awareness raised by the state’s literate population via social media about the sheer extent of the damage, help was quick to come from everywhere. The Reliance Foundation tops the list of corporate donors with Rs 71 crore aid in cash and kind, while Telangana with Rs 25 crore, followed by Maharashtra with Rs 20 crore, has led the 23 states that have contributed Rs 207 crore so far.
The initial fears that Kerala would be deprived of funds from the Centre as well as foreign sources are slowly giving way for optimism. The Centre has repeatedly assured the state that the Rs 600 crore aid it has announced is only for immediate relief, and more assistance would be on the way for rehabilitation. Though the Centre has ruled out donations from foreign governments, it's encouraging aid from foreign institutions.
World Bank aid on way
It’s likely that Kerala may ask the World Bank and Asian Development Bank for loans totalling at least $500 million or Rs 3,500 crore, though it may get only a fraction of it. After the 2004 tsunami, Tamil Nadu received a loan of $100 million from the two banks and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The World Bank, whose team visited Kerala last week at Centre’s behest, has already said it would provide the state an interim assistance of Rs 388 crore from funds the state is already getting for other projects.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was being practical when he said on Saturday that there were limitations on the Centre’s part to fully compensate the damage. "The state has to find resources to overcome the shortage of funds...,” he said.
And that’s what the Vijayan government seems to be trying to do. The state plans to net Rs 230 crore by hiking the excise duty on liquor and Rs 100 crore more through a special lottery with each ticket costing Rs 250. And the state is banking on raising Rs 10,500 crore from the market if the Centre allows it to raise its market-borrowing limit from 3 percent of its GDP to 4.5 percent.
Citizens’ initiatives the key
The myth of Kerala being “better-governed” and its overrated “Kerala development model” notwithstanding, it’s the community enterprises and citizens’ initiatives that have made the state what it is today and it’s the same collective people’s effort that will also, perhaps, largely see the state through the current tragedy.
A significant number of people who depend on remittances from Gulf countries where their family members work are likely to help themselves. For instance, there are 43 emigrants to the Gulf from every 100 households in flood-affected Pathanamthitta district. The figure is 29 in Thrissur, another district affected in the floods.
Overseas Malayalees — 25 lakh in the Gulf and nearly an equal number in other parts of the world — sent as much as Rs 75,000 crore home last year. Besides helping their own families back home, the expatriates can be depended upon to help the state’s rebuilding effort in a big way. Vijayan knows it and is despatching ministers to foreign shores to tap the non-resident Malayalis.
The author tweets @sprasadindia
Updated Date: Sep 02, 2018 14:46:56 IST