By Terry Friel
As Pakistan and India were still floundering to respond in the early hours after the Kashmir quake, a convoy laden with supplies snaked its way along the debris-cluttered road to one of the worst-hit areas in Pakistan.
The mission of mercy began with a simple SMS in Islamabad.
The armies and emergency services of India and Pakistan were caught largely off guard by the October 8 quake that killed more than 73,000 and made millions homeless, but new technology is allowing ordinary people to step in and help in a major way.
"(The) army has been very inefficient and poor with their response and efforts," said Zohare Haider, a project coordinator at Nortel in Islamabad who helped organize that early convoy and has been arranging more support since through his Web log, or blog, Shakethequake"The Sunday after the quake, a friend sent an SMS saying we should get together and help out," wrote Haider, replying to an Internet message. ""We all met at his house ... and that's when things just went out of control."
Haider has now quit Nortel to work for a relief agency.
Within hours, the group had scraped together 12 truckloads of food, blankets, medicine and supplies and almost 30 million Pakistani rupees and were on their way to Balakot in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province.
DONATIONS BY SMS
Spurred by the success of blogs on the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, bloggers have opened up new sites to raise and channel donations, coordinate efforts on the ground and match volunteers and donors with aid groups and projects.
SMS, or text messaging, has also been used for everything from coordinating aid to letting people in the United States make donations a few cents at a time and have it added to their monthly cellphone bill.
Blogs such as Quakehelphave had tens of thousands of hits, many in the early days of the Kashmir disaster. Postings range from NGOs calling for volunteers and doctors to discussions on the best material for winter shelters and appeals for more supplies.
Contributors include aid groups and ordinary Net surfers. Because they act in a way like community noticeboards, putting people in touch with each other, bloggers say they have no way of knowing how much aid they raise.
It is not the first time blogs have helped in the wake of a major disaster. They were prominent after the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. Many of those behind Kashmir quake blogs also blogged the tsunami, Katrina and Hurricane Rita.
Mumbai-based writer Peter Griffin, one of a loose group from around the world that set up Quakehelp, said their Katrina blog drew more than a million hits a day at its peak.
"I'd put that down to the much higher Internet access in the USA," he said.
The sensitivities involved in Indian and Pakistani Kashmir, where both armies are faced off over a ceasefire line, have made aid work harder, bloggers say.
"The information hasn't been easy to find," said Griffin. "It's a sensitive area politically and a remote, almost hostile land."
Quake survivors in Indian and Pakistani Kashmir complain official aid was slow to reach them in the critical early days and some say their armies were too slow to respond.
But the armies were also hopelessly short of resources for dealing with a disaster on such a colossal scale, as well as being badly hit by casualties themselves, and have been praised by aid agencies for the way they have built up their efforts.
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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