TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Cyberspace Comes to Aid of Kashmir Earthquake Survivors

Cyberspace Comes to Aid of Kashmir Earthquake Survivors

Terry Friel (
Wed, 30 Nov 2005 12:33:04 -0600

By Terry Friel

As Pakistan and India were still floundering to respond in the early
hours after the Kashmir quake, a convoy laden with supplies snaked its
way along the debris-cluttered road to one of the worst-hit areas in

The mission of mercy began with a simple SMS in Islamabad.

The armies and emergency services of India and Pakistan were caught
largely off guard by the October 8 quake that killed more than 73,000
and made millions homeless, but new technology is allowing ordinary
people to step in and help in a major way.

"(The) army has been very inefficient and poor with their response and
efforts," said Zohare Haider, a project coordinator at Nortel in
Islamabad who helped organize that early convoy and has been arranging
more support since through his Web log, or blog, Shakethequake

"The Sunday after the quake, a friend sent an SMS saying we should get
together and help out," wrote Haider, replying to an Internet
message. ""We all met at his house ... and that's when things just
went out of control."

Haider has now quit Nortel to work for a relief agency.

Within hours, the group had scraped together 12 truckloads of food,
blankets, medicine and supplies and almost 30 million Pakistani rupees
and were on their way to Balakot in Pakistan's North West Frontier


Spurred by the success of blogs on the Indian Ocean tsunami and
Hurricane Katrina, bloggers have opened up new sites to raise and
channel donations, coordinate efforts on the ground and match
volunteers and donors with aid groups and projects.

SMS, or text messaging, has also been used for everything from
coordinating aid to letting people in the United States make donations
a few cents at a time and have it added to their monthly cellphone

Blogs such as Quakehelp have had tens
of thousands of hits, many in the early days of the Kashmir
disaster. Postings range from NGOs calling for volunteers and doctors
to discussions on the best material for winter shelters and appeals
for more supplies.

Contributors include aid groups and ordinary Net surfers. Because they
act in a way like community noticeboards, putting people in touch with
each other, bloggers say they have no way of knowing how much aid they

It is not the first time blogs have helped in the wake of a major
disaster. They were prominent after the tsunami and Hurricane
Katrina. Many of those behind Kashmir quake blogs also blogged the
tsunami, Katrina and Hurricane Rita.

Mumbai-based writer Peter Griffin, one of a loose group from around
the world that set up Quakehelp, said their Katrina blog drew more
than a million hits a day at its peak.

"I'd put that down to the much higher Internet access in the USA," he

The sensitivities involved in Indian and Pakistani Kashmir, where both
armies are faced off over a ceasefire line, have made aid work harder,
bloggers say.

"The information hasn't been easy to find," said Griffin. "It's a
sensitive area politically and a remote, almost hostile land."

Quake survivors in Indian and Pakistani Kashmir complain official aid
was slow to reach them in the critical early days and some say their
armies were too slow to respond.

But the armies were also hopelessly short of resources for dealing
with a disaster on such a colossal scale, as well as being badly hit
by casualties themselves, and have been praised by aid agencies for
the way they have built up their efforts.

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

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