The past month has seen a trail of devastating natural disasters unfold in central America, the Caribbean and the United States.
Hurricane Irma, the most powerful storm in a decade, wrecked havoc as it battered 11 Caribbean islands – including Puerto Rico and Cuba – before making landfall in Florida in mid-September.
The category five storm with ferocious winds of up to 295km/h left at least 55 people dead, and scores more injured and displaced. Around 1.2million people have been affected by the destruction.
With the fingerprint of climate change looming, two other major land-falling storms – Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria – have unleashed further assaults in the region, thrashing areas still reeling from prior damage.
Then in Mexico, a 7.1 magnitude quake struck 100 miles from the capital around lunchtime last week, killing 326 people and damaging 11,000 homes.
The news agenda is moving on, but millions of people have been left destitute and without fuel, electricity or even regular food supplies from the combined cost of these natural disasters.
With residents struggling to re-build their lives amid widespread devastation, here’s how you can help:
Donate to major charities
A number of mainstream charities have set up relief funds in wake of September’s events, and it’s never been easier to donate to them.
Topos México are an unpaid force of “rescue moles” spontaneously set up after a 1985 earthquake in Mexico left 10,000 people dead. The volunteers assist in the aftermath of earthquakes all over the world, helping to lift rubble, look for signs of life and pull people out.
They’re now needed back home and are asking for donations via Paypal to bolster their voluntary efforts.
Over at the British Red Cross’ hurricane appeal, the government is matching every pound donated to the public up to £3million, while a £50 gift could buy 12 blankets for survivors. Money will help support local volunteers giving first aid, shelter and water to those affected.
With over 10 million children left vulnerable and at risk due to Hurricane Irma, Save The Children has an emergency fund to support its critical response health unit.
This surge team of nurses and doctors is deployed to the heart of disasters to conduct field assessments and coordinate response efforts.
Unicef is also fundraising to provide essential supplies such as clean water to families who’ve faced barrage of extreme winds, flooding, landslides and storm surges.
The charity is simultaneously running an appeal to help keep children safe after the earthquake in Mexico, with access to shelter, clean water and essential medicine all compromised.
Meanwhile, Oxfam is calling for emergency donations to help support victims of Mexico’s earthquake, too. It says £58 can provide a water and hygiene kit for two families in an emergency.
Donate to Crowdfunding efforts
GlobalGiving’s Mexico Earthquake Relief Fund is one of the biggest crowdfunding campaigns, having so far raised over £750,000 to bring food, shelter, water, and medicine to those affected by the quake.
It’s also pledging to help residents recover and re-build in the longer term.
Some crowdfunding efforts are more personal. This Hurricane Irma relief fund is based around the Zenger family, who lost everything when the storm struck on the Caribbean island of St. Martin.
The small West Indies enclave was one of the places hit hardest by Hurricane Irma, and many residents there remain without fuel, electricity or regular food supplies. Looting is also a problem.
“The entire island had been destroyed,” one the Zenger’s relatives wrote. “It was as if bombs had gone off decimating everything in sight. Their car, their home, and their belongings are all gone. And the fates [of] many friends and branch members are still unknown. The devastation is indescribable.”
Money raised will go towards helping island residents recover.
Restoring infrastructure on the Turks and Caicos archipelago after weeks of misery is a key aim of this JustGiving page, set up by a group in the UK with personal connections to the islands.
And West Ham striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has set up his own YouCaring fund to help residents in his native Mexico.
There are many other smaller funds to donate to, too.
It’s worth doing your research first with Crowdfunding; while scams are extremely rare and organisations such as GlobalGiving vet all their partners, take the time to check it’s legit – more info here.
Donate essential items
When disaster strikes and usual systems are destroyed or cut off, it becomes almost impossible for local residents to access daily essentials.
The Mexican Red Cross has set up a wish list on Amazon, where people can buy staple items such as nappies, powdered milk and toothpaste for victims of the earthquake.
It’s a clever idea because you can see exactly where your money is going and it brings home clearly the human cost of the devastation.
Meanwhile, Babycycle Diaper Bank is still on the hunt for specific items – including baby clothing and bath soap – to distribute in areas of Florida hit by Hurricane Irma.
While material goods can be useful, always check with a charity before dropping them off. The logistics and cost of transportation often mean that a cash donation is a more effective way to help.
Volunteer your time
You can help more broadly with any of the organisations involved in disaster response (Unicef, Save The Children, British Red Cross, DEC), by volunteering your time.
These charities are always in need of people to organise fundraising events, staff phone lines or work in their shops.
If you have a specific skill set that would be useful when it comes to disaster relief – in areas such as engineering, health, child protection or logistics – you could consider volunteering for field work with organisations like Redr or Médecins Sans Frontières.
Support organisations that tackle climate change
While experts disagree on how or to what extent climate change affects the unprecedented level of natural disasters we’ve witnessed in the past month, the fact that it plays a role is indisputable (no matter what Donald Trump believes).
“It’s not the proximate cause of the storm, but it makes these bad storms worse. And in the case of a really bad storm, climate change can make it totally disastrous or catastrophic.”
Ross Stein, scientist at the US Geological Survey, believes climate change can lead to more earthquakes, too. Here’s his explanation of how human activity can agitate shifting tectonic plates.
With the force of climate change still poorly understood and untested, it’s vital that we invest further research into its effects.
Join the Climate Change Coalition, the UK’s largest group of people dedicated to action against climate change, or see here for a list of organisations you can support – as suggested by Friends Of The Earth.
You could also follow the work of the World Meteorological Organisation, a UN agency that collates data and funds research into the impact of climate change around the world.