By Sonya Rehman
Pakistanis are using the internet to spread information about the devastating flood and mobilize on-the-ground resources for flood victims. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have emerged as key tools for young adults who want to help their country.
Pakistan’s flood crisis has left an already unstable country on unsteady ground. The calamity has affected 20 million Pakistanis. For Pakistanis living here and abroad, social media have emerged as welcome tools for responding to the flood’s devastation.
Individual Pakistanis have taken the responsibility for disaster relief on themselves and turned to social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter in the process. Users of these sites have formed groups online to join the rehabilitation effort. From individuals sharing article links about the flood situation, to groups sharing maps of the affected areas, social media have helped mobilize aid and spread awareness about the monumental rebuilding task facing Pakistan in the aftermath of the floods.
Young Pakistanis Lead Flood Relief Efforts
Social media websites have made it easier for Pakistanis living abroad to get involved in the situation at home. One remarkable example is that of a young Pakistani student in New York, Natasha Jahangir, who persistently tweeted her way into getting celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Adam Levine (of Maroon 5), and Queen Rania of Jordan, among others, to tweet for Pakistan’s dire flood situation. The celebrities tweeted to their fans about Pakistan’s flood crisis and ways to donate, sparking a chain reaction that culminated in thousands of re-tweets by fans across the world.
Twitter has enabled people to post real-time updates about which flood-affected areas are being neglected and what kind of work is being done in relief camps. Ayza Omar, a journalist working with DAWN News (a local news channel in Lahore), delivered on-the-ground dispatches of her trip to the flood-affected areas. On August 31, Omar tweeted: “Not much going on in Multan. People petering out slowly from the 32 camps. Headed to their destroyed villages in Muzaffargarh.” A day later, she tweeted: “Birth of twins in a flood relief camp brings happiness to barren couple.”
A woman in her early twenties from Lahore, Soufia Siddiqi, used Facebook to promote a cupcake fundraiser for the flood victims. The fundraiser involved people buying cupcakes that would be distributed to underprivileged children around Lahore. The proceeds from these cupcake orders were then distributed to flood victims. As the orders came in, Siddiqi ended up making Rs. 24,000, roughly, US$280. Motivated to do even more, she, along with some friends, formed “The People’s Disaster Management” (TPDM), a project to support ongoing rehabilitation efforts and raise money for flood relief.
Another group, “Zimmedar Shehri – Responsible Citizens”, known in Lahore for its active role in cleaning up garbage-ridden areas in the city, urged its members through Facebook to get involved in flood relief efforts. Formed by young, twenty-something Pakistanis, Zimmedar Shehri reached out to more than 3,000 members with messages asking them to gather in a particular spot in the city to raise funds by going door to door, asking for donations. The group then bought food items and basic necessities, and appealed again to members for help in packing relief items. The relief packages were loaded onto trucks before being driven to certain flood-affected spots.
Why Social Media?
The widespread use of social media in responding to the flood is partially explained by the fact that websites like Twitter and Facebook are very popular with young adults in Pakistan. Some Pakistanis, however, have launched campaigns via social media because they lack faith in the government’s ability to muster an effective response. For instance, “The People’s Disaster Management” project warns on its website that citizens shouldn’t believe the government has a plan for dealing with disasters such as the flood. They write: “We KNOW there isn’t one. Don’t kid yourselves and don’t let the government tell you otherwise.”
In Pakistan this year, with the culmination of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, Eid, was a somber affair. With 20 million Pakistanis affected, the country and its citizens will continue to heal, albeit slowly, from the gaping wound left by the destruction.