JORHAT: In this age of social media, no event can remain ignored for long and the floods in Assam are no exception.
Every year, floods hit the northeaster state, ravaging districts and affecting lakhs of people. This year, the devastation was on a bigger scale, with many calling it the worst floods in the last two decades. Even as people and animals grappled to survive, help came from across the country. And social media played a big role in that.
As the mainstream media kept flashing news of flooded roads and traffic jams in Gurugram in the National Capital Region, far away from the spotlight heartbreaking photographs of people grappling for their lives in Assam's floods started circulating on social media. As posts began to be 'shared', such as news about the hapless rhino calves orphaned in Kaziranga, it caught the much-needed attention of many across the state's borders.
Attention translated into enquiries, and finally to the much-required relief efforts.
Among the many who stepped forward to help were people from Chennai. Having themselves seen and lived through a terrible episode of floods last year, people from all walks of life got in touch with NGOs or government agencies, some simply reached out to friends in Assam, to bring relief material like dry ration, clothes, medicines and other necessities.
Chennai-based Shravan Krishnan, a wildlife conservationist, is one of those who used the social media extensively to put together relief efforts for the victims of the Assam floods.
"Along with some of my friends in Chennai, I decided to help in Kaziranga after we saw some horrific pictures of people and animals suffering. We rescue wild animals in Chennai, like snakes, deer, and monkeys. So we thought we could help. Plus, we have the experience in helping during floods, since we played a big role in rescue and relief work during the Chennai floods last year," Krishnan told IANS.
Kaziranga was one of the worst affected in the floods which came in three waves this year. Nearly 90 per cent of the national park was inundated, along with villages in the vicinity. According to Pallab Lochan Das, Minister of State for Disaster Management, at least 49 people were killed and 41 lakh affected by the floods this year.
Krishnan says that most of the rescue work was over by the time he and his team landed in Assam. "But relief was required. We met the District Forest Officer at Kaziranga and after assessing the situation, handed over 400 kgs (25 boxes) of relief material for the flood victims that we had got from Chennai," he said.
Their work did not end there. After meeting officials of the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), they found out that eight rhinos calves which were orphaned and rescued, were in need of milk formula. "We put together a fundraiser and were able to contribute 50 kg of lactogen (baby milk formula) for the rhino calves," Krishnan said.
He and his teammates, Nishanth and Robin, continued their efforts once back in Chennai, and thanks to his social media following, they raised Rs 400,000 for the flood-affected animals.
The orphaned baby rhinos got help from other quarters too. A doctor in Bhopal, Nandini Sharma, decided to adopt one of the calves after pleas for help went out from the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) (under WTI), where the calves were kept.
The upkeep of a rhino calf, especially its milk requirement, is an expensive everyday affair -- a calf needs about six packets of lactogen every day. The wildlife centre therefore called for help to adopt a calf for two years by taking care of its expenses.
A shopkeeper in Bokakhat, the town in the vicinity of Kaziranga National Park, said that all shops ran out of lactogen once word spread that the rescued calves need milk. "The locals volunteered to donate milk packets... we heard that a lot of people from outside Assam have also volunteered to send milk for the rhino calves. This is heartening news," said Arun Das.
Such has been the outpouring of help that WTI put up an online status saying that the rhino calves' food and immediate needs have been taken care of, and what remains now is long-term rehabilitation which will take its time.
Rhinos are, however, not the only animals to be affected by the floods. More than 300 animals in the national park were killed -- most of them young -- even as rescue teams continue to save animals from waterlogged areas. An elephant calf was rescued as recently as last Saturday by the team.
Youngsters have in particular been extremely dedicated in contributing to the cause.
Gaurav Sharma, who hails from Haryana, decided to gather relief material in his college and neighbourhood after reading about the Assam floods on the social media.
"I also have a friend who is studying in the Guwahati campus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and he told me how he and his classmates went to the Majuli island to help the flood victims. That further motivated me to do my bit from here," he said.
Donations to various grassroots organisations and government agencies in order to buy the basic necessities for the flood victims have also been pouring in, both from locals as well as those settled outside. Udayan Joshi, who hails from Assam and is working in the US, said he is in touch with different organisations back home to contribute and help.
As the flood waters slowly start receding, the immediate need is of medicines, since the risk of water-borne and vector-borne diseases loom large. Along with doctors and paramedics of the government agencies, private doctors' associations and others are also helping out in setting up of health camps and distribution of free medicines.
With growing awareness, sanitary napkins have been a part of a lot of relief item boxes for the victims -- again a positive news -- since hygiene and women's health can often be overlooked at such times.
"Social media is a powerful tool. We in Assam and in the northeast feel ignored by the mainstream media regarding our issues, but the social media is helping us turn the tide," said Lakshmi Gogoi, a teacher, with positivity.