Cell phones turn saviour in flooded Bihar

September 2nd, 2008 - 12:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Madhepura/Saharsa (Bihar), Sep 2 (IANS) Cell phone calls and SMSes have saved hundreds of people in flooded Bihar in the last 14 days and are keeping hope alive for many more still marooned.”My family of seven and some others were safely rescued by an army boat thanks to the cell phone which we used to inform local administration,” Dhirendra Rai said at a relief camp in Saharsa town.

Similarly, Khalid Ahmad’s family was provided food packets and evacuated from rooftops of their village mosque in Supaul district by local administration after they kept using their cell phones to make calls and send SMSes for help and rescue.

“We used the cell phone to exchange messages of well-being, danger and sought help from the rescue teams,” says Rajendra Yadav, a resident of Madhepura. He was evacuated only after he repeatedly sent SMSes and kept calling his relatives, friends and the district administration.

“It is true cell phones are keeping the communication lines and hope of life alive in flood-hit areas,” Bihar Disaster Management Minister Nitish Mishra told IANS. He has been camping in Araria, one of the worst flood-hit districts bordering Nepal, for the last ten days.

Mishra said he received hundreds of mobile phone calls daily after publicising his phone number in newspapers and TV channels, advising people in need to contact him. “On an average over 200 marooned people requested me over phone to rescue them and send boats,” he said.

“Many marooned people sent text messages to local authorities from rooftops of flooded buildings to rescue them,” Mishra said.

Desperate calls for rescue and requests for food packets to be dropped from helicopters have been received by the local authorities. “Rescue us or we will starve to death on rooftops,” says one SMS. “Please rescue my family or they will washed away by floodwaters,” says another. Others say: “We are in serious trouble, bring a boat to save us”, “Time is running out, we are without food for days”.

The state has this year suffered one of its worst floods in over 50 years, but unlike earlier, villagers have made use of technology to contact the administration for relief or to inform family members and relatives living elsewhere.

“Several women informed their husbands in Ludhiana in Punjab, New Delhi and relatives in Patna by using mobile phone. It was a lifeline for me,” said Baleshwar Singh, resident of a village in Madhepura district.

“My cell phone has come handy for people in distress and we also complained to the local administration about the lack of relief materials,” said Sahzadi Khatoon, a resident of Araria district.

Madhepura district administration officials also told IANS that cell phones had proved very useful.

“When everything was submerged under floodwaters, with no roads, no trains, no power supply, no other communication links, including the landline telephone, to speak of, it was the cell phone call or SMS that kept their spirits up by letting them stay connected,” officials said.

The residents have been extra careful to preserve their cellphone batteries. There is no way to charge them except the odd solar-powered battery or electricity generator that is still working.

North Bihar is an area with no shortage of cell phones - since most families have at least one member working far from home and wanting to stay in touch.

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