Floods: Kerala rises to the challenge, as does the rest of India 

Kerala proves its nay-sayers wrong by stepping up to the challenges faced as a result of the floods. And, this might yet be Kerala’s finest hour and no I don’t think I’m saying it too soon

PTI Photo 
PTI Photo

Ashlin Mathew

In adversity, this might yet be Kerala’s finest hour and no I don’t think I’m saying it too soon. According to the CMO, there are more than 7,24,649 persons in at least 5,645 relief camps across the state and unlike what has been witnessed when a disaster of such magnitude occurs in our country, there hasn’t been much histrionics nor false promises from politicians.

The Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been hands on addressing the issue with a calm disposition that is much required. No disappearing act, no theatrics and no trimming of facts and it’s not just him. His council of ministers, bureaucracy and the opposition have been on the ground working almost non-stop. Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac’s image holding a baby while helping with relief in his constituency Alappuzha needs no special mention. The Union Minister KJ Alphons had said recently that the only thing Thomas Isaac does is complain about the lack of flood relief funds. Maybe Alphons should listen and convey the message, instead of stating that Kerala only needs plumbers and carpenters, and not food.

The Army, Navy and IAF stepped up their relief and rescue efforts. Most of those they evacuated couldn’t have been done without their help. The IAF set up a medical camp for those affected in Thiruvalla and that came as a huge relief. The Coast Guard rescued many a stranded mother and child. But, of course they were tagging their boss Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on social media to ensure that she could take credit for it later. Petty politics had to come in.

Unlike in most states, where a calamity of this magnitude would have debilitated the state machinery and residents alike, here all those who could were out doing their bit, even the prisoners. There are complaints, but none of them are of government apathy or inaction. It is of woes, lives torn asunder and of inadequate relief.

More than 350 inmates from the Thiruvananthapuram central prison, Women’s prison and Special Sub Jail have been cooking and sending out food packets containing chapattis and kurma. They made over 40,000 chapatis in just two days

A doctor couple, Dr Najeeb and Dr Naseema, and a Panchayat member in Ernakulam, Shahabas KH, managed the relief work at UC College in Aluva, which had more than 8,000 people. The couple called all pharmacists in the vicinity for medicines and everyone who could, supplied. The camp did face shortage of food, water, latrine facilities and no power, but everyone lived.

Anbodu Kochi, a Facebook group which was born in 2015 in the aftermath of the Chennai floods, has been organising the transport of food and relief supplies towards a large number of shelter camps on the outskirts of Kochi. Anbodu Kochi, which had only nine members, is now a 2,000-strong volunteer team. Ex-collector MG Rajamanickam, who began this initiative, has been coordinating the relief operations from the Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Kochi.

Individuals such as Dhanya Rajendran, Sandhya Menon and a person who goes by the name ‘Inji Pennu’ have been mobilising support through Twitter and Facebook. Incidentally, all the three women are journalists.

Menon has been using Twitter and Instagram to collect funds and relief kits for the flood victims. She was involved with the Chennai floods as well. Menon has been in touch with people who run the CARSEL foundation in Kerala that helps Adivasi children in conjunction with the government. So, all that she gets goes to government stockpiles, from where it is distributed to Wayanad, Pathanamthitta, Aluva and Kochi. Through her foundation she has been able to send two trucks. In addition to this, she is a part of an informal citizen’s collective, Blue Umbrella, through which they have sent about five trucks of relief materials. Menon has been able to raise almost Rs 9 lakh towards the relief fund, in addition to the relief material.

Inji Pennu has been helping to manage an inventory of various relief camps, in addition to helping spread information about resources, isolated people and give information about rescue operations. Her Facebook feed is inundated with messages of those willing to man call centres, help with spreadsheets and coordinate relief material being sent.

Dhanya Rajendran, who runs The News Minute, has been using both Facebook and Twitter to pass on messages of requirements and of those who were isolated. All this while reporting on the floods.

More than 350 inmates from the Thiruvananthapuram central prison, Women's prison and Special Sub Jail have been cooking and sending out food packets containing chapattis and kurma. They made over 40,000 chapatis in just two days. At least 120 prison officials have been coordinating with the prisoners and the collector’s office to drop off food and water to the relief camps. It’s not just those in the capital, district prisons in Ernakulam, Kozhikode and Kollam have been providing food to the camps.

The real heroes of the tragedy are the fishermen, who even without anything came forward with their boats to the rescue. This prompted the state government to announce that they would honour the fishing workers who were part of the rescue mission

A UK-based Sikh Charity group, Khalsa Aid, have set up a community kitchen in Kochi to provide food to the flood victims. Working closely with Gurudwara Singh Sabha in Thevara, they have set up a relief camp at Assisi Vidyaniketan Public School where meals are being served to 3,000 people.

The real heroes of the tragedy are the fishermen, who even without anything came forward with their boats to the rescue. This prompted the state government to announce that they would honour the fishing workers who were part of the rescue mission. “All boats will be granted ₹3000 for each day of their work. Government will also bear the repairing costs of boats damaged during the mission,” stated the government. There are murmurs that the payment is too little and they are likely to refuse it.

Indian Veterinarian Association in Wayanad has been rescuing cattle in the district, while the Humane Society India (HSI) team has been operating in Nilambur and Tirur in coordination with the Government of Kerala and the National Disaster Response Force.

Mothers of Bhavans school students in Kochi formed a group to pack food and utilities that would be transported to those in relief camps. There was a worker from Madhya Pradesh, Vishnu, who had come to Kerala as a blanket seller. When the flood hit Kerala, he donated all his blankets to the flood relief. Additionally, the All Kerala Caterers Association offered free food for relief camps in case of requirement. Several people, churches and schools opened up their homes and premises for those affected by the flood. Malayalees across the world in New Jersey, Doha, Dusseldorf and Dubai organised flood relief collection points to collect goods and then send them.

The UAE and Qatar governments announced relief aids. There was even a relief aid package that came from Pakistanis in Dubai

That’s not all. Though the response of the rest of the country did not pick up initially, support poured in from all quarters. States like Maharashtra sent doctors, Odisha firemen and boats, Punjab sent one lakh packets of relief material, each consisting of a mineral water bottle, biscuits, rusk, skimmed milk, sugar and tea leaves. A number of state governments announced aid, including Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, Bihar and Telangana, after they realised that the Modi government was playing politics with aid. Kerala state government has estimated the initial damage to be worth Rs 20,000 crore and the Modi government has released Rs 600 crore. This forced the Kerala Chief Minister for contributions to the CM Relief Fund and the response was overwhelming. Several politicians contributed their salaries to the CM’s fund, while several south Indian actors and their fan associations also contributed. It felt like the country had come together for a brief moment.

Even the UAE and Qatar governments announced relief aids. There was even a relief aid package that came from Pakistanis in Dubai.

All of this was in spite of the attempts of many right-wing elements to polarise the relief efforts. There were messages asking for donations only for Hindus, and that came from an RSS-affiliated person. A man decided to post a video stating that Kerala floods affected only rich and that the electricity supply was intact in most areas. He went on say those affected by floods require only skilled labourers like electricians and carpenters and asked people to arrange for these instead of sending them cash. Soon, he was trolled for it. He was from the BJP IT Cell. Suspiciously, this is exactly what Alphons said too. Is there a method to their viciousness? Then there was a fake bank account attempting to collect funds in the name of Kerala Chief Minister’s Distress Relief. It was busted soon.

Kerala has raised the bar and so should the country. Maybe all hope isn’t lost yet!

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Published: 22 Aug 2018, 8:17 AM