Photo Credit: Church of South India
Members of the Church of South India have been at the heart of the relief efforts after flooding devastated swathes of the south western state of Kerala. The dioceses of East Kerala and Malabar, in the eastern hilly areas of south India, along with parts of the Cochin diocese, remain affected.
So far, about 350 have died in the floods, and more the 700,000 are displaced and living in relief camps around the region. The crisis began with a wave of monsoons, leading to swollen rivers. Eventually 35 of the 36 dams in the region broke, releasing nearly 700,000 litres of water per second, causing landslides, flooding homes, and blocking roads.
Moderator of CSI, Most Rev. Thomas K. Oommen, was among the first to visit those affected, either travelling by foot or by boat, due to washed out roads. After the dams broke and the situation became more dangerous, along with other diocesan leaders, he continued to visit those in need, handing out kits with food and medicine. Churches have mobilised, turning parish halls, schools, and administrative buildings into relief centres, providing medicine, food and clothing. Although the water has begun to recede, the relief centres will continue to operate for at least another week.
Young people in CSI have also responded through social media. A group referred to by the Madhya Kerala Diocese as ‘cyber warriors’ have organised a rescue helpline call centre. Operating from the CSI Retreat Centre in Kottayam, they have been reaching out to those in need through social media, particularly through a Facebook group named “Kerala Flood Rescue Facilitating Group.” They collect information on survivors, find them on Google maps, and share that with rescue teams. They also provide families with news about survivors. Now that the floodwaters are receding, the team is focused on informing the volunteers about specific needs of medicine, food, and clothes at the relief camps.
The Diocese of Madhya Kerala said, “It is really heartening to see how many of the young teams, predominantly the IT professionals, led this social media war against the floods across the state using the connections.”
The Revd Sunil Raj Philip, a communications officer for CSI who originally comes from the Madhya Kerala Diocese, found himself feeling helpless as he heard about the situation in Kerala. At the same time, the work done by the dioceses also inspires him.
“I couldn’t do anything. I could only tell our partners and update our provincial website,” he said. “My immediate family in Kerala were among the very few to be least affected, but we still feel hit. We still feel the pain.
“But being a priest and person from Kerala, I feel proud of my colleagues, who are relentlessly working to save people.”
He hopes to join them in the next couple of days.