World Wide Help Blog: A Go-To Site for Disaster Help and Information

July 12, 2006
Sujatha Bagal

Imagine there is a flood or an earthquake or a terrorist attack, or, as we had in December 2004, a tsunami. All of your family is in the city that is going through this crisis, but you are far away, perhaps in the US or the UK. As is common during these disasters, the phone lines are the first to suffer and so your primary mode of contact with your family and friends breaks down. You are desperate to talk to someone in your circle, make sure everyone is all right, but you cannot get through.

So what do you do?

You log on to World Wide Help.

World Wide Help (WWH) is run by the World Wide Help Group, many of whose members operated the South East Asian Earthquake And Tsunami Blog (SEA EAT) in the wake of the December 2004 tsunami that ravaged major parts of south-east Asia.

SEA EAT was founded by Mumbai-based Peter Griffin who subsequently started two new collaborative blogs to assist residents of Mumbai following the July 2005 floods - Cloudburst Mumbai (with Sunil Nair) and Mumbai Help (MH) (with Amit Varma). They are both repositories of information and a means to reach loved ones in times of emergency in Mumbai. The list of contributors has steadily grown over the last year and includes some of the best bloggers in the desi blogosphere.

WWH (whose motto is "Using the web to point help in the direction where it's most needed") posts regular updates on disasters around the world and also provides links to blogs that have been set up for providing information regarding disasters in certain cities (such as Mumbai and New Orleans). So your first stop would be the WWH and if your city has a blog, you would go on to that.

Once you get to a blog such as Mumbai Help, you will find not only the latest information regarding the disaster, but also contact information for hospitals, emergency services, pharmacies, government agencies and NGOs.

But the most vital service the blogs perform is one where they try to put family members and friends in touch with each other, or at least try to get messages across to one another.

Following yesterday's blasts on the Mumbai trains, Mumbai Help put up a post that simply asked "How Can We Help You?" And people asked for help, people from all over. They asked if MH contributors could help them reach their parents, their children, their brothers and sisters, their friends. And many calls and SMSs later, there were numerous relieved comments thanking the folks at MH. Family had been located, friends had been found.

It must just feel so good to have someone call you and ask if everything is ok because your brother or mother or son or friend wants to know but they cannot reach you. And it must feel just as good to hear that everything's fine. Most cases turn out this way. There are a few, however, in which the people cannot be reached, but the contributors at MH left numerous messages of encouragement, holding hands as it were, reassuring worried commenters that people would be located, would turn up.

Humanity, compassion, empathy.

In the end, that is what World Wide Help is all about. It is not about the technology, the blogs, the comments, the wikis. It is, quite simply, an example of humanity shining through and breaking barriers of time, distance and borders.

Sujatha Bagal is a writer currently based in the US. She recently returned following three years as an expat in Bangalore, her hometown. For a glimpse into the life of an expat, visit Blogpourri.
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World Wide Help Blog: A Go-To Site for Disaster Help and Information


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