Nearly a month and a half after Hurricane Maria hit the Puerto Rican mainland, the disaster has begun to retreat from the headlines. However, the work of getting the island back on track has scarcely begun. Victims are still being discovered in rural areas, there’s an entire electrical infrastructure to rebuild, and there are still many without clean water. We can’t forget the necessity of sustained relief.
In light of this disaster’s demands on our attention, I’d like to point out the importance of setting limits and taking care of oneself – there are far too many crises to be able to dedicate one’s life to each one. However, if you, dear reader, have the time and energy to spend even five minutes with this cause, it will be time well spent. If you need to go for a walk, laugh with friends, or take a nap beforehand, though, please do so.
But, this disaster is important: people are suffering, and we can help. We can decide, as a nation and a world, whether we forget Puerto Rico or we facilitate its recovery. Furthermore, if we truly wish to help bring about change, we must do more than just provide band-aid solutions. In addition to sending immediate aid for surface problems, we must also investigate the issues underlying the devastation and work to resolve them.
- Donate (preferably cash). It’s simple, it’s quick, and it can have a huge impact. Also, cash is significantly better than physical items when donating to areas in need far away. The New York Times has put together a beautiful list of trusted charities mitigating the damage after Maria as well as an article on how to choose where to donate. One of my personal favorites is GlobalGiving, an umbrella organization that directs your donation to local nonprofits. Seeing as locals know how to address their challenges better than any foreigner, GlobalGiving seems to me to have the right idea.
- Advocate for the rights of Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and deserve as much support from the federal government as those affected by Hurricane Harvey. However, due to a long tradition of racism and maltreatment, it’s dubious whether that level of support will be provided. Puerto Rico is in especially dire need of help from the federal government due to its current state of severe debt. Call your representatives and/or sign this petition now to ensure that Congress gets Puerto Rican citizens the help they deserve as Americans.
- Fight for climate justice. Maria hit Puerto Rico a mere two weeks after Hurricane Irma. This is far from characteristic of the global climate we’re used to. As written by a Caribbean climate scientist for The Guardian, “Scientific analysis shows that the climate of the Caribbean region is already changing in ways that seem to signal the emergence of a new climate regime. Irma and Maria fit this pattern all too well. At no point in the historical records dating back to the late 1800s have two category five storms made landfall in the small Caribbean island chain of the eastern Antilles in a single year.” Climate change is undeniable and terrifying: if we continue on our current track, these previously unprecedented disasters will become more and more commonplace. It is for this reason that leaders of several of the islands affected by Hurricane Maria have called for more of a response to climate change from wealthy nations. These disasters are a wake-up call: if we don’t act accordingly, the devastation will only multiply. There are a variety of ways at Yale and in New Haven that one can get involved with fighting climate change: check out Fossil Free Yale for an explicit focus on intersectional climate justice and look at the Yale Student Environmental Coalition website for a more comprehensive list of options.
Let’s be a part of making sure that Puerto Rico isn’t forgotten. It’s all too easy to expect a stunted healing process in Puerto Rico: another instance of international apathy, inefficiency in aid, unequal treatment from the United States, and forgotten climate change warnings. However, this scenario is not inevitable. We can unearth the root issues and systematically dismantle them. We can shift the narrative. But will we?