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Brazil under flood: Bloggers form solidarity networks

(All links go to websites in Portuguese)

There has been three months of intermittent rain in Santa Catarina and there are now nearly 79,000 displaced people and 110 deaths. Of a population of 5.9 million, 1.5 million people have been directly or indirectly affected by the floods. There are 12 cities in a state of emergency. The rain is expected to continue over the coming week, which not only hinders relief and rescue operations in areas hit by floods, but also jeopardizes the logistics of food and medicine distribution.

Photo taken on November 24 in Itajaí by flickr user magrufloriano and posted at the flickr group SOS Santa Catarina whose aim is to promote and spread news about aid campaigns. See his full coverage set.

This is not the first flood in Santa Catarina, but it is the first very serious disaster in Brazil in the age of the Internet. Alexandre Gonçalves says it won't make the rain stop, but at least social networking sites and blogs have provided real-time information and become ‘helplines’ to support people affected by the tragedy. He explains:

Primeiro, porque aumentaram as opções para a população suprir sua necessidade por informação. Em outros tempos, dados oficiais da Defesa Civil, só pelo rádio ou pela TV. Agora, é só acessar o site e conferir os boletins mais recentes. Também fica mais fácil acompanhar o noticiário, sem esperar pelo plantão na TV nem pelo jornal do dia seguinte. E segundo, como era de esperar, muitos internautas se mobilizaram para prestar serviço, trocar informações, expressar opiniões, publicar vídeos e fotos sobre a tragédia (veja, por exemplo, o resultado de uma busca por “enchente, chuva, santa catarina” no BlogSearch). Em Blumenau, cidade mais atingida pelas enchentes, onde rádios e TVs tiveram cortes de energia e ficaram fora do ar, um grupo de blogueiros se reuniu num blog coletivo para publicar notícias sobre os estragos na cidade. Os blogueiros e outros moradores de Blumenau também passaram a postar sobre a situação no Twitter – veja o que já foi publicado. Foi lá que vi o link para o vídeo abaixo, que mostra desmoronamento na rua Hermann Huscher.

(Video by YouTube user carolanton)

First, because they have increased the options to supply the population's information needs. In other times, there would be official data from Civil Defense only on radio or TV. Now, you only need to visit the website to check updates. It is also easier to follow the news, without needing to wait for breaking news on TV or the next day's paper. Secondly, as expected, many Internet users have mobilized to provide help, exchange information, express their views, upload videos and photos about the tragedy (see, for example, the search results for “flood, rain, Santa Catarina” on BlogSearch). In Blumenau, one of the cities worst hit by floods, TV and radio stations suffered a blackout and were taken off air, then a group of bloggers got together in a collective blog to provide news about the damage in the city. Bloggers and other Blumenau residents have  also been posting updates on Twitter – check what has been said. It was there that I saw this video about a landslide in Hermann Huscher Street.

The collective blog mentioned above is Notícias de Blumenau [Blumenau News], aka Alles Blau, put online by a dozen bloggers on November 24. Apart from providing updates, helping to find lost people and promoting information about donations needed in various shelters, the blog has  also been selling t-Shirts to raise funds:

Buscamos parceiros para produzir essas peças gratuitamente ou a preço de custo, para reverter a receita líquida em doações para a Defesa Civil de Santa Catarina.

We have sought partners to produce these pieces for free or at cost price, to generate net income in donations for the Civil Defense of Santa Catarina.

Guilherme Valadares from Papo de Homem [Man's Talk] has just started a solidarity blog meme. Every blogger should donate R$100.00 (about US$43.00), post a picture of the receipt and link to three other blogs, who should in turn do the meme too. Here is how it works:

1. Fez seu post, doa R$100 – deixa de ser mão de vaca, é R$100 mesmo, imagina se fosse você que tivesse perdido tudo. Se o seu amigo for universitário quebrado e chorão, aí sim deixa doar R$50. Só não deixa ficar de fora.
2. Chama mais 3. Se eles fizerem corpo mole, pode chamar os caras de imbecis. Todo mundo tem grana pro bar, pra balada, pra comprar porcaria. Não adianta vir com papo de biba.
3. Linka o Alles Blau, que vai catalogar todos os participantes.
Conta para Doação
Banco do Brasil
Agência: 3582-3
Conta Corrente: 80.000-7
Fundo Estadual da Defesa Civil para Doações

1. Write a post, donate R$100 – stop being tight-fisted, it is just R$100, imagine if it was you who had lost everything. If your friend is a broke university student or a crybaby, tell them to donate R$50. As long as they join.
2. Call 3 more people. If they limp along, you can call these guys idiots. Everybody has money to spend in a bar, on a night out, to buy crap. No limp talk.
3. Link to Alles Blau, which will catalog all the participants.
Account for donations:
Banco do Brasil
Sort Code: 3582-3
Account Number: 80.000-7
State Civil Defense Fund for Donations

In all, and not only from bloggers, the state has received over R$3.5 million (approximately US$1.5 million) in donations. Domingos Secco, who had been asking around for blog mobilization, joins the meme and says that R$100 is worth more than a thousand words:

Tem horas que a saída é botar a mão no bolso e ajudar as pessoas que precisam. Falar, orientar, criticar, rezar, tudo isso fica em segundo plano, pois milhares de pessoas precisam de suporte material. Para quem está à distância, como eu, a única força de ajudar a tantos irmãos é fazendo uma doação monetária. Sim, existem outras formas como envio de alimentos prontos, roupas, material de construção, etc. Realmente a situação é crítica.

There are times when all you need to do is put your hand in your pocket and help people in need. Talking, guiding, criticizing, praying, all that goes to the background, considering that thousands of people need material support. For those who are far away, like me, the only useful way to help so many brothers is making a cash donation. Yes, there are also other ways such as sending food, clothing, building material, etc… Indeed the situation is critical.

Citizen Media 3: Mainstrean Media 0

The mobilization to help the victims of the disaster in Santa Catarina started with Twitter on Saturday November 22 with local residents themselves giving updates of everything happening nearby. Volunteers and victims used the tool to frenetically exchange messages and catch up on the #blumenau channel. Guilherme Felitti writes at Digital Age 2.0 about how the tool has been well explored in recent tragedies in Brazil and India, and how it worked as a direct information channel in both cases, with real time content produced by those affected by the tragedy and not just by a reporter who arrived too late to experience the commotion:

Enquanto a mídia local se organizava na cobertura, o Twitter demonstrava os principais problemas enfrentados pelos moradores pelo excesso de água acumulado em avenidas da cidade. Não demorou muito até que viessem os relatos mais contundentes, sejam em vídeos publicados no YouTube de barrancos desabando (maior causa de mortes, diz a Defesa Civil do Estado) seja em fotos publicadas no Flickr das ruas completamente tomadas pela lama (as que ilustram esse post, por exemplo). Blogs, sejam criados apenas para cobrir a tragédia, como o ótimo AllesBlau (“tudo bem”, em alemão), focado em publicar histórias de residentes e agregar conteúdos amadores encontrados por serviços colaborativos, ou tradicionais, entraram na roda com o principal propósito de espalhar informações sobre a situação da região como forma de sensibilização da opinião pública.

While the local media coverage was still being prepared, Twitter was showing the main problems faced by residents because of the excessive water accumulating on the city's roads. Not long after that, the more remarkable accounts, either YouTube videos showing collapsing hills (the leading cause of deaths, according to the Civil Defense of the State) or Flickr's pictures of streets completely overrun by the mud (such as those that illustrate this post). Blogs have been set up just to cover the tragedy, as the great AllesBlau ( “OK” in German), focused on publishing residents’ stories and aggregating amateur content provided by collaborative or traditional networks, which took to the field with the primary purpose of spreading information about the situation in the region to raise public awareness.

Blog do Kalel criticizes the media coverage (first being slow to pick up the issue or give it due importance and then sensationalizing it) and highlights the work done by other bloggers to report fairly and quickly on the news without sensationalism. He says they are actually changing the way journalism is done in Brazil:

O blog Poracaso, sediado em Jaraguá do Sul, uma das cidades mais atingidas em Santa Catarina, além de produzir uma cobertura mais intensa do que a das redes oficiais de TV, iniciou uma campanha de solidariedade e conseguiu em poucas horas, durante o dia de ontem, mobilizar dezenas de voluntários. Os cidadãos-repórteres também ajudam autoridades a avaliar o risco de pontes e outros locais atingidos pelas águas. Câmaras portáteis e aparelhos celulares permitem fazer imagens de qualidade suficiente para publicação na internet, mas alguns moradores conseguem produzir vídeos com qualidade para transmissão pela TV, oferecendo alternativas interessantes e variadas para os editores. Em alguns casos, as imagens só podem ser captadas por quem mora ou estava passando pelo local, pois todo o Sul do Brasil tinha até ontem várias comunidades isoladas pelas enchentes. Se a chamada grande imprensa relutou até aqui em assumir oficialmente uma relação de parceria com seus leitores e telespectadores, a tecnologia e os acontecimentos acabam de produzir uma mudança radical no modo de fazer jornalismo.

Poracaso blog, based in Jaraguá do Sul, one of the worst hit cities in Santa Catarina, in addition to providing a more intense coverage than the official TV networks, began a campaign of solidarity and succeeded in a few hours yesterday [November 26] in mobilizing dozens of volunteers. The citizen-reporters also helped authorities to assess the risk to bridges and other places affected by the waters. Portable cameras and cell phones are able to make images of sufficient quality for publication on the Internet, but some residents can produce high-quality videos for TV broadcast, offering a varied and interesting resource for editors. In some cases, the images can only be captured by those who live in, or were passing through, the spots, because up to yesterday the whole of southern Brazil had several communities isolated by the floods. If the so-called big media was up until now reluctant to officially make a partnership with their readers and viewers, technology and news events have caused a radical change in the way journalism is made.

Carlos Castilho from Observatório da Imprensa [Press Observatory] underlines the main differences between the less agile traditional media and the more to-the-point citizen media coverage:

Os deslizes e escorregões de repórteres durante coberturas de grandes tragédias são inevitáveis, dada a tensão e a emoção envolvidas no trabalho dos jornalistas. Mas os erros servem também para mostrar o tipo de cultura e de valores que orienta o comportamento dos repórteres e apresentadores. É nesta questão que fica claríssima a diferença de enfoques entre os profissionais da mídia convencional e os blogs produzidos por amadores e free lancers. Enquanto os primeiros estavam preocupados com a sua apresentação, ou seja, na imagem projetada para o público, os blogueiros estavam mergulhados na tarefa de prestar serviços aos atingidos por aquela que já é considerada a pior enchente de Blumenau, uma cidade periodicamente afetada por inundações do rio Itajaí-Açu.

Reporters’ errors and blunders during coverage of major tragedies are inevitable, given the tension and emotion involved in the journalists’ work. But errors are also good to show the kind of culture and values that guide the behavior of reporters and presenters. It is in this case that the difference in the approaches between conventional media professionals and amateur and freelancer produced blogs becomes crystal clear. While the first group were worried about their presentation, the image projected  to the public, the bloggers were immersed in the task of providing services for the people affected by what is already considered the worst ever flood of Blumenau, a city periodically affected by the Itajaí-Açu river floods.

There are also Blog dos Desabrigados [Blog of the Displaced, pt] with a search system where people can find where their friends or relatives are being sheltered; a volunteer support network set up at Arca de Noé [Noah's Ark, pt] blog, where people can send photos and videos, and provide first hand news on the situation. Designer Rodrigo Muller has contributed the poster below, which has made it to posts on many blogs:

Give what you can spare to those who need it most, by Rodrigo Muller

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