Thiruvananthapuram: Abhilash Raghu, a bespectacled IT engineer in denims, is waving a cardboard sheet with marker-written requirements to those who are entering an aid collection centre, a college in Thiruvananthapuram.
As textile shop owner Beena Latif enters the college compound, a dozen people come up and unload her donation, clothes worth Rs1.5 lakh, before directing her out.
Inside the college hall are about 200 people, mostly teenagers in jeans, working the war room as it were. Some are separating the goods—rice, sanitary napkins, medicines, oats, instant noodles, and clothes. Others wrap them up in water resistant material and pack them in cardboard boxes.
Yet others carry these massive relief packages to the back of the hall, where they are kept before being loaded onto trucks headed for relief camps.
As flood waters recede in Kerala, some 5% of the total 33 million have been counted as displaced by the floods. The remaining 95%, it seems, are spontaneously helping out one way or another.
The logistics involved in the five aid collection centres in the city are massive. Yet, the goods move like in a factory, because of the efforts of the hundreds of volunteers. On Monday they found themselves handling more goods than they could manage, because of the generosity of donors, prompting district collector K Vasuki to order a slow down.
Such collection centres—the biggest are in Thiruvananthapuram and Ernakulam districts—have mostly been set up by a WhatsApp group that includes ordinary people, movie actors, activists, police personnel, and district administrators. Like the donations, the labour force is also voluntary. In case of shortages, someone rings a friend and it is fixed in no time at all.
Workers are not just young techies and students. On Saturday, Hari Gopinathan, an influential figure in the city’s tech world and a senior official at US-based Oracle Corp, was manually unloading relief material from an Air Force plane to lorries, along with 50 colleagues.
In neighbouring Karnataka, Malayalees almost emptied the Metro hypermarket at Electronic City in Bengaluru of relief material at the weekend. Pitching in are firms such as Big Basket, Paytm, PhonePe and Google Tez, Grofers, Ola, Uber, and Zomato.
This goodwill is so remarkable that the state now faces an oversupply of relief goods. As a result, the Kerala government has put together a team of techies to come up with a software that tells aid workers what is needed where, and how to get the supplies, said a software engineer who is part of the relief effort.