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Technology for good

Kerala floods’ rescue and relief efforts were adequately aided by technology of all kinds

Technology for good

Kerala has always held a special place in my heart. No other Indian state resonates with the Bengali more than Kerala. Whether it is their choice of food replete with fish and meat or their coastal climes or Marxist politics --- Kerala and Bengal are kindred spirits in more ways than one. On a personal level, its one of the states in India that I have frequented the most, usually for work. On many a rainy day, I have reminisced the beautiful Kerala monsoons. This year though that lovely imagery is tinged with tragedy. The recent Kerala floods devastated the entire state killing hundreds and rendering thousands homeless.

In these trying times, hundreds of good Samaritans and responsible Indian citizens, came forward to extend a helping hand to the people in need. Irrespective of religion, caste, or community, Indians moved by the sight of overflowing rivers and helpless people, joined flanks to first tackle the crisis, and now look forward to rebuilding the state. And leading from the front, in this endeavour, was technology.

During the Kerala floods, we witnessed 'technology for good'. I have to write about this because in many of my previous columns, I have discussed how technology is being used to spread misinformation, canards, and lies, that in many cases, have provoked lynchings and hate crimes. Technology, mobile networks, internet, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram were utilised effectively to help in the rescue of thousands who were trapped or marooned. The efforts of numerous fishermen who plunged into rescue efforts cannot be praised enough. And of course, there was the army and navy, tenacious with their rescue, gracious and humble in their actions. We don't say thank you enough to these unsung and often forgotten, heroes. After all, whether it is to rebuild a bridge or clean toxic Bengaluru lakes, it is our soldiers who protect and rescue, and sometimes even clean up after us. But all the rescue efforts made by the fishermen and armed forces, all the relief work carried out by the NGOs, were complemented by technology.

Almost all social media portals were being used to disseminate important information, relevant telephone numbers, and urgent pleas. Even hyperlocal rescues were being done with the help of timely WhatsApp messages sent by people who needed rescuing. When I was confused as to how best one could help out, technology came to my aid. While I chose the Chief Minister's Relief Fund and my previous organisation, Malayala Manorama's Charitable Trust Fund, to contribute keeping the macro picture in mind, I also wanted to help locally. After all, every effort is a drop in the ocean given the magnitude of the crisis that is being touted as one of our worst crises in the last decade. But as much as I would have wanted to, volunteering at any of the relief camps was not feasible. And once again, technology came to the rescue.

Technology stepped in when there was an urgent need for donations, in cash or kind. Some e-commerce sites showed heart and presence of mind by utilising their platforms for relief work. E-retailer Amazon linked the wish-list of some NGOs according to hyperlocal needs and allowed consumers to purchase products such as large sacks of flour, hygiene products such as hand wash and baby diapers, water purifiers, powerful torches, etc. which would be sent to the NGOs. Food discovery and online ordering platform, Zomato, allowed customers to buy meals for people at relief camps. All of this was using technology for good; technology at its most powerful, technology for humanity.

Obviously, divisive forces were also not far behind. They too used technology to spread lies and propaganda such as beef-eating and disallowance of women into Sabarimala Temple were reasons for God's wrath or that only the rich were affected in the floods, so no aid was needed, or that north Indians were not helping this southern state in need. But in the end, in this face-off of technology for good and bad, the former was victorious, showing us the authoritative way in which it can positively bring change.

(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Shutapa Paul

Shutapa Paul

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