Cyclone Fani, the most powerful storm to hit India and Bangladesh in years, killed dozens of people as powerful winds and rainfall lashed affected areas beginning May 3, according to the New York Times.
The storm caused widespread damage to infrastructure, destroying thousands of homes and submerging villages in Cox’s Bazar, which is home to the largest refugee settlement in the world.
The overall damage and death toll were greatly minimized, however, by effective preparation and evacuation efforts by governments in both countries, according to the United Nations. In the days leading up to the storm, millions of people were evacuated and sheltered in storm-resistant structures, a precautionary measure that will allow communities to safely return to their homes in the days and weeks ahead, and one that gives relief workers more control of the subsequent recovery.
A woman cooks a meal outdoors after her house was damaged by Cyclone Fani in the Penthakata fishing village of Puri, in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, Saturday, May 4, 2019.
The coastal state of Odisha, India, averted what could have been catastrophic damage through extensive planning that included 2.6 million text messages warning about the storm before it hit.
"This is a real testament to how important it is to pay attention to disaster preparedness and investing in reducing risk," Christy Delafield, interim director of communications at Mercy Corps, told Global Citizen. "We often talk about how every dollar in investment in preparedness saves $10 in emergency response."
"You can repair a home, but there's no way to fix loss of life," she added.
Videos of Cyclone Fani showed trees being uprooted, cranes being toppled, and homes being destroyed. In fact, the majority of deaths were caused by falling trees, the Times reports.
The storm has tapered, but hundreds of thousands of people remain homeless as the recovery effort gets underway.
Here are three ways you can help.
1. Donate to on-the-ground relief organizations
Humanitarian organizations were on-the-ground in the days leading up to Cyclone Fani’s arrival, evacuating communities, distributing supplies, and ensuring people had accommodations.
Now they’ll need financial assistance to help communities recover in the weeks and months ahead. Working alongside local and federal authorities, nonprofits will be rebuilding homes, providing food and clean water, and helping children return to school.
"Cash is just the best kind of response," Delafield said, for people who want to donate. "People have such generous spirits and often give in-kind donations such as clothing and other materials. But when you bring in large supplies of things that are donated they may not be what’s needed, and there are people in the path of these storms who make their living off of clothing and building houses and we want to support their local economy and markets as they recover."
Here are some organizations on the ground you can donate to.
"People get this idea of aid workers as parachuting into these countries, but the most informed and the most knowledgable aid workers are already living in the communities they work in," Delafield said, explaining that 90% of Mercy Corps employees are locally recruited.
"They speak the local language, understand custom, and know what people need."
2. Support refugee organizations
Cyclone Fani showed how Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar are both extremely vulnerable to natural disasters and living in a precarious situation at all times.
After facing a genocide in Myanmar in 2017, nearly a million Rohingya refugees fled across the border into Bangladesh, where the majority found safety in camps that were being set up in Cox’s Bazar. Two years later, the camp has become the largest refugee settlement in the world, and it’s in constant need of supplies.
Organizations such as UNICEF, the World Food Program, and Save the Children are working to provide year-round food, clean water, and medical care. They’ve reinforced shelters, set up schools for children to continue their education, and offered job training programs for young adults. These organizations have helped refugees cope with the trauma caused by extreme violence, and advocated for long-term solutions to help the Rohingya return to normal lives.
Natural disasters make it considerably harder for organizations to provide day-to-day services as they rebuild shelters, safeguard water supplies, and help displaced refugees.
You can donate to these organizations to support their ongoing work to help Rohingya refugees.
3. Stay informed
After natural disasters, it’s common for people to make one-time donations and then forget to engage with the event’s aftermath. But once the floodwaters recede and the winds die down, there’s often still a lot of work to do and that early surge in donations tends to get spent very quickly.
The Cyclone Fani recovery effort will likely go on for months as communities in India and Bangladesh clear debris, rebuild homes, and repair infrastructure, and relief organizations will need consistent funding.
"We’ve seen a bit of a success story in terms of minimizing the loss of human life, but now we need to help people rebuild their homes and make sure they have access to clean water to prevent disease," Delafield said.
"Our work is to understand what people need," she added. "Those people who were evacuated, some may be staying in shelters for a long time if their homes were destroyed."
If you have the means, you can set up a recurring donation with your favorite humanitarian organization and encourage friends and family to do the same.
You can also set up news alerts to stay up-to-date with the recovery effort. Although the news cycle will likely move on from Cyclone Fani in the days ahead, you’ll still be able to find information about what aid workers are doing and how communities are recovering.
In particular, follow local coverage of the recovery effort, where first-hand accounts of the events will help you better understand what’s going on.