The Best of Amaliah Straight to Your Inbox

What Does It Take to Respond to a Humanitarian Crisis? Lessons From the Front Lines

by in Lifestyle on 6th April, 2023

“Everything was shaking, bricks were falling out. It felt like Judgment Day, and everything would be completely destroyed. My wife was screaming, I went to my children but I didn’t know what we could do. We fled outside and saw thousands of people on the streets with just the clothes on their backs. People were shouting for their lost children – whole families were separated. So many buildings were totally destroyed and I saw tens of people under the rubble, with crowds trying to pull them out. People are still out in the streets – they don’t have anything to go home to and we are all scared of aftershocks. Right now the Islamic Relief team here is distributing blankets, sheets and mattresses that we have in stock – but these will run out today and we need more as soon as possible. People urgently need tents, food parcels and blankets. Hospitals are inundated with injured people so we’re providing them with medicine and other supplies.” – Mohammad Hamza

When Mohammad Hamza, Head of Islamic Relief’s office in Idlib, Northwest Syria, went to sleep on the night of 6th February 2023, he did not know that they would be waking up at 4 am to the house shaking from side to side. This turned out to be one of the worst earthquakes to Turkey in 19 years and Syria in over a century.

It tore people’s lives apart in the blink of an eye, leaving them hopeless and lost. Hamza was one of the many witnesses to this catastrophe, and his story paints a picture of the destruction that followed the earthquake. Two weeks later, on the 20th of February, disaster struck again as another strong 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey. So far, more than 50,000 people have been reported dead with a total of 24 million people impacted by the earthquake.

How does one respond to disasters that never seem to end – individually and collectively? Our media is saturated with natural and man made disasters, communities in dire living conditions and constant calls for help from charity organisations. How do we cut through the noise and figure out the best way to help and the best charities to donate to for swift and lasting impact?

This article is brought to you by Islamic Relief UK who treat your Zakat as an Amanah and spend it in the most effective way possible to provide food, water, hope and a home to the most vulnerable in the UK and around the world. Find out more about their work here.

And how do we navigate the widespread panic and chaos of a large-scale earthquake? We look at the key steps involved in the herculean task of responding to a humanitarian crisis. 

1. Assessment 

– Finding out what is happening on the ground

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, time was of critical essence. With thousands of people trapped under rubble, the injured who had thrown themselves out of buildings and terrified families on the streets afraid to enter their own homes, relief efforts required experts on the ground to carry out rapid gathering of information and assessing the most pressing needs. Finding victims, giving first aid to the injured, moving them safely to hospitals are all complex tasks that need trained individuals in the field. 

2. Coordination 

– United in crisis for effective humanitarian response

Coordination is key to a successful response to large scale crises that involves bringing together governments, humanitarian and community-based organisations. These efforts ensure that resources are not wasted due to duplication, and governments even pledge to match donations to further elevate their impact. Coordinating to bring experts and organisations on ground also requires funding.

We saw how immediately after the earthquake, people required emergency aid in the form of shelter, winter kit, medical supplies, food and water.

As the situation evolved and they got exposed to harsh elements, the requirement changed to blankets, mattresses, sheets, and hygiene kits. As well intentioned as individual efforts are, we cannot deny the effectiveness of charity organisations like Islamic Relief who have a proven track record of providing necessary support and are more likely to have systems in place that ensure donations are used timely and effectively. 

3. Funding 

– Making every penny count through donations

Funding is a critical part of responding to a humanitarian crisis.

Two months after the first earthquake struck on 6th February, Islamic Relief has been able to help around 886,186 individuals (100,711 households) in Turkey and Syria through the power of our donations.

They rely heavily on donations from individual donors to fund their work, and it is essential to remember that every donation counts. In 2021, Islamic Relief raised £182 million, allowing them to support over 11.8 million people in 36 countries, with £166 million of this coming from the public.

4. Logistics 

– How rapid response saves lives in times of crisis

When disaster strikes, the ability to rapidly transport and distribute essential supplies and equipment can mean the difference between life and death for those affected. With over 100 offices in 40 countries worldwide, Islamic Relief has built up a network of resources and expertise to access those in need quickly and effectively. 

Perhaps next time we want to hold multiple clothes donation drives, it would help to remember that established organisations with years of experience and expertise on the ground, are better equipped to respond to the ever-changing needs of affected communities. Their coordinated efforts make a tangible difference in the lives of those in need, offering a glimmer of hope in the darkest of times.

5. Implementation 

– Beyond Aid: How Effective Humanitarian Response Transforms Communities

Implementing a humanitarian response is not just about giving emergency aid, but also finding ways to create lasting solutions. By working with local organisations, aid workers can distribute resources effectively and tailor solutions to the specific needs of each community. 

From the very start, Islamic Relief has had this one clear vision:

“Inspired by our Islamic faith and guided by our values, we envisage a caring world where communities are empowered, social obligations are fulfilled and people respond as one to the suffering of others.”

Long-term efforts are important to help communities thrive again. This could mean rebuilding infrastructure, supporting livelihoods, providing counselling and recreational therapy and empowering individuals to take control of their own futures. 

And that means a deep commitment from us to a long term response as it’s not just about helping in times of crisis, but also creating a better future for everyone. 

6. Monitoring and Evaluation

– Track. Improve. Entrust

Monitoring and evaluation is critical to ensuring the effectiveness of a humanitarian response. 

Now, for a fifth year, Islamic Relief has been certified against the CHS (Core Humanitarian Standard), a rigorous global standard for humanitarian work – it is one of only five UK-based charities to have this accreditation.

One beautiful quality about our ummah is that when we hear news of people in need, we rush to their aid. We naturally feel compelled to help our brothers and sisters in need. Which makes it imperative that we choose a charity with care. 

Muslim charities must be able to handle Zakat eligible donations with integrity. For example, Islamic Relief has a Zakat Advisory Board made up of scholars in the UK who have ratified their Zakat Policy – which ensures they spend Zakat funds in accordance with Shariah. 

The impact of donations on a humanitarian crisis varies greatly depending on the nature of the crisis and the efforts of humanitarian organisations. It’s true that immediate relief efforts can yield quick and tangible results. When a natural disaster strikes, for instance, our donations can help provide shelter, food, clean water, and medical care to survivors within days or weeks, making an immediate difference. However, some crises require a long-term approach with sustained engagement over years or even decades to achieve lasting change. This is why it’s important to remember that in Islam, there are many different ways of giving charity. Sure, everyone loves immediate results, but for Sadaqah Jariya, it’s crucial to ensure that the project is long-term so that its benefits are continuous.

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “When a man dies, his deeds come to an end except for three things: Sadaqah Jariyah (ceaseless charity); a knowledge which is beneficial, or a virtuous descendant who prays for him (for the deceased).” (Muslim)

In a world where we strive to make a difference and help those in need, together we can create a brighter and more caring world for generations to come. A world where our good deeds continue to have a positive impact long after we are gone.

Charities that treat our donations as a precious Amanah should be able to offer transparency of their work on ground and showcase their short term and long term impact in their financial statements. The Impact Report of Islamic Relief is a great way to see how your donations have been used effectively throughout the year. You can take a look at the impact of your donations with Islamic Relief in 2022 here and here.

This Ramadan, ensure your Zakat makes maximum impact by donating here.

When you choose a Muslim charity this Ramadan for your donations, we hope you keep these key steps in mind and look at their previous impact reports to maximise the effective utilisation of your donations. 

As for Mohammad Hamza, he is still there, on ground in Northwest Syria, working tirelessly for the communities in need. The work of Islamic Relief goes on. 

Amaliah Team

Amaliah Team

This article was written by a member of the Amaliah team or a collective team effort. You can follow us on @amaliah_tweets for the latest or head over to our Instagram @amaliah_com. If you're reading this and are thinking about contributing an article then send us an email with a brief or a full article to

Read more like this