While the toll is rising every hour, already well over 2,000 victims, and people are trying to cope with regular strong aftershocks, trauma, anxiety about finding where are their relatives, rain and a government that is not prepared for such a disaster, social media have organized themselves in a couple of hours and provide vital information outside of the traditional phone or media networks.
In a typical example of technology leapfrogging, information sharing is happening due to the few people in Kathmandu mostly who still have access to the major global social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and the people outside of Nepal – Nepali overseas communities, experts in disaster responses and social media strategies, but also many Nepal global friends (former tourists, pilgrims) who are building data collection to provide key support to people back in Nepal and are calling for action.
Renown Nepali writer Prajwal Parajuly told Global Voices via Facebook message:
We felt the earthquake in Gangtok, Sikkim, for a long time. My mum commented on its not being as intense as the one in Sept 2011. We couldn't contact any of my mother's family in Kathmandu, so I went on Twitter to see what was happening. It was awful–the first pictures were harrowing.
On the ground reports from across Nepal can be viewed via another Nepali writer, Manjushree Thapa's Nepal Twitter list. Kashish Das Shrestha a developmental NGO advisor uploaded photos from the streets:
— Kashish Das Shrestha (@kashishds) April 25, 2015
Response from Chinese speaking communities
Nepal’s northern neighbor China is paying large attention to the disaster via its social media networks such as Weibo (a Chinese version of Twitter) and Weixin (Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp, also known in English as WeChat) for a variety of reasons.
China itself is prone to massive earthquakes – the recent 2008 earthquake cost the lives of nearly 90,000 people – and the one that just happened in Nepal caused life casualties across the border in China in Tibetan areas. People are sensitive to such news as they feel immediately concerned given the large concentrations of populations on China.
Second, Nepal has a visa upon arrival policy for Chinese tourists – one of the very few countries to do so – thus large numbers of mainland Chinese – over 100,000 per year since 2013 have been going to Nepal as tourists, climbers, Buddhist pilgrims in the past years and have established personal friendships with Nepali guides, drivers, hotel managers, shop owners, translators, monks, and thangka [traditional Buddhist painting on scrolls revered by most Buddhists in China and beyond] painters.The sense of spiritual and romantic imagination of Nepal is crystallized in a Chinese popular movie, Up in the Wind 2013. But many of the historical and religious sites captured in the film are now destroyed.
Nepal is a major destination for people on Buddhist pilgrimages and a lot of Buddhist sites and Weixin accounts are posting updates and calling for prayers.
Many tourists are expressing their concern and solidarity on social media as well. Ruby, a Taiwanese living in Kathmandu, keeps updating the latest situation on Facebook and helps people to locate their family members and friends who are traveling in Nepal.
Recently, Kathmandu airport was across in the news in China as a Turkish airliner crashed at the single international airport and blocked the air traffic for about three days, leaving hundreds of Chinese and other tourists stranded.
Global social media response and practical tools
Information about the earthquake and its still on-going aftershocks is available here and reported via social media by residents of Kathmandu via their twitter accounts:
More importantly several groups have been established to use social media and crowd sourcing information to account for so far missing people. Google launched a Person Finder for people to file missing person reports. But many are using social media platforms as well, including this facebook page, where people from Nepal or foreigners who have friends, relatives currently in Nepal are posting information but also request to account for people they currently cannot reach:
— Kunda Dixit (@kundadixit) April 26, 2015
For example, someone is enquiring here about a recently married couple.
And already difficult questions are being asked:
Different countries are sending us troops and aids to help us overcome the aftermath. But who will be coordinating everything??? What action plans will be taken?? Does Nepali government have a plan to locate these troops sent for help? Do they have plan to distribute the necessities? This needs to be pondered upon.