The state of Kerala is reeling from the worst flooding it has seen in a hundred years. For days the chief minister himself has been asking people in India and all around the world to donate to relief funds and do whatever they can to support in the relief, rehabilitation and rebuilding.
In a moment like this, we can all choose to react in one of three ways. We can react like the thousands of common people, chief ministers, heads of state, military personnel and aid workers and do whatever we can to help the victims of these devastating floods.
Or we can choose to do nothing. Which is perfectly fine. Perhaps you wish to donate afterwards. Or not at all. This is fine. We all have competing priorities.
Then there is a third option. Which is to hamper donations, sow mistrust, and provoke doubt.
Over the last 24-48 hours there is an audio clip making the rounds that I think needs a response. Because even well-meaning people find WhatsApp irresistible. I will respond to three points:
- That largely rich people affected
- That donations will not go to the poor
- That Kerala needs services instead.
1. 'Only the rich will get impacted.'
This is ludicrous. Floods don't go around with census data targetting the rich. Wayanad, one of the first and worst affected districts is desperately poor. It is one of two Kerala districts drawing support from the Backward Regions Grant Fund along with Palakkad. (Citation here)
Not to forget some basic things: Floods make many rich poor, and many poor destitute. Economies don't stand still during floods. Secondly, the rebuilding will take years. Merely compare estimates of damage to estimates of state spending. Damages are estimated at anywhere from 15-50000 Crores. Kerala's TOTAL budgeted expenditure this year for infra was 11,000 Crores. And the state's total state tax receipts are estimated at one lakh crore. (Citation here)
So unless the assumption is that Kerala will just spend on NOTHING but rehabilitation for the next few years, funding support in any form is inevitable. And finally, the Chief Minister himself asked for donations. Into a fund. That I am reliably informed can be RTI'd. Asking the world to donate, repeatedly, is not something a chief minister does lightly.
Now if you'd rather trust a voice on WhatsApp, than the evidence on Malayalam news channels, press releases by the state, and social media updates from the Armed Forces, and the state's own chief minister then there is nothing we can do to persuade you otherwise.
2. 'Donations will not go to the poor'.
There is a kernel of truth in this. Simply because the poor will take longer to get back to their feet and access these funds in any form. This is not a bug, but a feature of society.
However what might give you some succour is that Kerala has one of the least leakiest of all PDS systems in India. (Some details)
Thus it is not unfathomable that some of these techniques will be used when it comes to relief routing. Again this is not to say that there will be no leakage. Or some rich will not game the system. They will. (Already we know the state is working to control price gouging.) Again you are entirely free to assume the donations will be captured by the rich. The choice is yours.
3. 'That we need services, plumbers, drivers, more than goods, donations'.
This an important point. But not universally so. As with every calamity in India or elsewhere, relief goods are often stuck, and much will perish, waiting for transport.
In other cases, goods will reach, ironically, less impacted areas in greater numbers than elsewhere. So it is entirely possible there are huge stocks of food. In fact the CM has already said govt warehouses were full ahead of Onam. (However many of these warehouses themselves will have been flooded.)
There is also the fact that there is food and there is food. Rusks and bread you can eat now. Out of the bag. In relief camps. Rice needs cooking. Milk powder needs clean water. Context matters.
Thus it really is down to coordinating agencies to figure out what they want and where to send it to. I can tell with you 100% certainty that this will be terribly hard to do. Because that is in the nature of such events.
But there is little doubt that manpower will soon become a problem. Already there are reports of full trucks and no drivers. People going back to houses but not finding help to clean and disinfect. The problem will worsen as the waters recede and Kerala falls out of news.
But right now, as far as I know, things are complex. Some people need plumbers. Some people need bread. And often the plumbers are where they want bread and vice versa.
So to summarize: This is not some scam by the Malayali rich to leech donations. I assure you there are poor people thronging relief camps all over the state. Donations do get leaked out. Choose a route and donate wisely, whether cash or goods. Or if you'd rather wait for now, and donate carefully later, that is great too.
But most importantly, let us treat fellow citizens, who need relief, in good faith and with fair judgment. Don't let a WhatsApp forward destroy your conscience. Switch on your TVs, switch to a Malayalam news channel. See the feed for yourself. Or go online, browse the photos on the Army's Additional Directorate General of Public Information's twitter feed.
Kerala needs help. Do what you can friends. Help Kerala. Ignore Kerala. But please don't cause us more harm than we have already suffered.
This was published on Sidin Vadukut's Facebook, and has been republished here with permission.