World Islam and Christian Relief Groups Join Hands


In 2013, 22 million people globally were displaced due to natural disasters. The problem is worsening these days, with roughly twice as many people displaced due to disasters compared to the 1970s. Better forecasting and relief operations have reduced the number of deaths, but displaced populations are on the rise. Thankfully, Islamic and Christian world aid organizations are now joining hands to increase international disaster relief efforts.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) have signed a historic agreement to cooperate in humanitarian work while strengthening interfaith relations. The signing of the memorandum of understanding is the first official cooperation between global Islam and Christian humanitarian organizations.

Islam and Christian World Relief Groups Join Hands(Image source: LWF)

United Across Religious Differences

The LWF released a statement Monday from its Geneva headquarters where it represents more than 72 million Christians around the world. “We are proud to formalize our partnership with Islamic Relief Worldwide today,” said Eberhard Hitzler, director of the LWF Department for World Service.

“At the heart of our collaboration are the many core values we share such as dignity, justice, compassion and commitment,” said Hitzler, “and our common vision to empower and support vulnerable communities and people affected by disaster, which unite us across our religious differences.”

“A Uniquely Powerful Model”

Mohamed Ashmawey, CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide, noted, “We live in a time when our fragile world appears more disrupted by human suffering; religion is often construed as the dividing line between peoples in conflict. We believe that in these fragile times, faith-based humanitarian organizations are best prepared to provide a uniquely powerful model for mutual respect, service and cooperation for the betterment of all of humankind.”

Ashmawey emphasized the religious roots of humanitarian work. “We have been here first,” he said. “Where would people go when they were sick and hungry? They would come to the churches and mosques.”

Islamic Relief Worldwide has been responding to emergencies for three decades, providing a lifeline for vulnerable communities affected by disaster and poverty. They continue increasing their work to protect those living in high-risk areas, with a focus on innovative disaster-risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

imageImage notes: Kashmiri houses submerged by floodwater on September 10, 2014 (Source:

Global Estimates Report: 22 Million Displaced in 2013

Four decades of data show that twice as many people are being displaced today than in the 1970s. A new report by the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Center was released last week at the U.N. with the approach of climate week. The “Global Estimates” report from IDMC shows that 22 million people were displaced in 2013 by disasters brought on by natural hazard events — almost three times more than by conflict in the same year.

“This increasing trend will continue as more and more people live and work in hazard-prone areas. It is expected to be aggravated in the future by the impacts of climate change,” said Jan Egeland, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s secretary general.

imageImage note: Disaster relief worker surveys scene in Aceh. (Source: Islamic Relief Worldwide)

No Region of the World Is Immune to Disasters

According to Global Estimates, no region of the world is immune to disasters. As in previous years, the worst affected in 2013 was Asia, where 19 million people, or 87.1 percent of the world total, were displaced. Both wealthy and poorer countries are affected, although developing countries suffer the worst, accounting for more than 85 percent of displacement.

In the Philippines, typhoon Haiyan alone displaced 4.1 million people, a million more than in Africa, the Americas, Europe, and Oceania combined. Seasonal floods also caused significant displacement in sub-Saharan Africa, most notably in Niger, Chad, Sudan and South Sudan. These countries have highly vulnerable populations who are also affected by conflict and drought. Also, Africa’s population is predicted to double by 2050. In the coming decades displacement risk is expected to increase faster in Africa than in any other region in the world.

Populations in the developed world are exposed to hazards, too, and they led to some of the world’s largest displacements last year. Typhoon Man-yi in Japan displaced 260,000 people. Tornadoes in the Oklahoma displaced 218,500. However, IDMC Director Alfredo Zamudio says, “Most disasters are as much man-made as they are natural.” He believes that “better urban planning, flood defenses and building standards could mitigate much of their impact.”

image(Image source: Islamic Relief Worldwide)

Islamic Relief Organization’s Worldwide Aid Efforts

Islamic Relief Worldwide currently provides humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people in over 30 countries. Their work includes life-saving emergency relief and early recovery. Their efforts also include development programs to help protect communities and improve the lives of some of the poorest families on the planet.

Currently working in India and Pakistan, IRW is assisting vulnerable families dealing with displacement. Hundreds have lost their lives to flash flooding and landslides in both countries. Many communities remain cut off from basic services such as water and electricity because vital roads and bridges are destroyed.

With millions of people affected in the unfolding disaster, around 50 percent of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir are impacted by flood water. Over a dozen relief camps are set up to shelter displaced families, and many others are seeking safety in public buildings and makeshift camps. With many acres of crops wiped out, the disaster is also impacting livelihoods and food security, especially for the poorest families. As the disaster continues to unfold, IRW concerns are rising about the spread of diseases, and providing for the needs of those who have lost everything.

imageImage notes: A woman carries her daughter to safety in PakistanJhang district. Incidents of water-borne diseases are rising in flood-affected areas. (Source: Islamic Relief Worldwide)

Protection Needed From the Rising Risks of a Warming World

Islamic Relief Worldwide notes that climate change and environmental degradation are having devastating effects upon the communities of the world. IRW helps educate and assist communities to better protect themselves from the impact of disasters. They outline ways to reduce disaster risks, as well as ways to safeguard the environment from further harm.

As stated on their website, “Environmental concerns are increasingly at the heart of our advocacy.”

As world leaders gather this week for the UN Climate Change Summit, calls for action are desperately needed. Vulnerable populations need protection from the rising risks of a warming world. Communities need help adapting to the changing, unpredictable weather patterns. Without this help and protection, unfortunately, much more displacement will occur in the future.

imageImage notes: A child and other survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan in a shelter in Tacloban, Philippines on December 19, 2013 (Source:

Addressing the Faith-Based Needs of Refugees

U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees Deputy Alexander Aleinikoff was at the signing of the historic agreement between Lutheran World Federation and Islamic Relief Worldwide. Aleinikoff praised the cooperation.

“The secular humanitarian world has not taken enough notice of the faith-based needs of refugees,” he said. “This working together is a dream coming true. You can do marvellous things together. I hope this will become a model for others to replicate.”

The LWF is currently engaged in emergency and development assistance in Kenya and Djibouti. They assist refugees in camps at Dadaab and Kakuma in Kenya and at Ali Addeh and Hol Hol camps in Djibouti. As new camps are established, they are expanding their program by entering into new partnerships with UNHCR, WFP, government authorities, and relevant local and international groups.

Deputy Aleinikoff also asked the two organizations to give feedback on their cooperation to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Together the LWF and IRW have recently carried out an assessment in Dadaab, Kenya, one of the biggest refugee camps in the world. Their assessment focused on how best to jointly assist disabled persons who are often overlooked in refugee situations.

image(Image source: Lutheran World Federation)

Growing Relationships and Building Peace

The LWF has developed a successful model of refugee camp self-management. The model has two primary elements: building refugee capacities for leadership and management, and facilitating an ongoing exchange of information among refugees, host communities, and agencies involved in the camp. They have created community safety and peace building teams in the camps, as well. Communities are encouraged through social workers and trained community members to establish self-help groups and networks. In these ways, LWF program staff facilitates access to information and services, and is greatly improving education in the refugee camps.

“This is a time when we as faith-based organizations have to say very clearly that religion is not about violence,” the LWF General Secretary Rev Martin Junge said. “This memorandum is not only about technicalities, it also touches questions of self-understanding. I am looking forward to grow in that relationship, and to bring the theological challenges of that relationship back to our member churches.”

Working together, regardless of religious differences, is about growing sustainable relationships. Eberhard Hitzler, the director of LWF Department for World Service, focused on the key, saying “At the heart of our collaboration are the many core values we share such as dignity, justice, compassion and commitment.” LWF principles in peace building being applied in the refugee camps can guide the new efforts between the two world aid groups. Peace building is often a direct result of divergent groups joining hands and striving for the greater good of others in need.

imageImage notes: Women carrying their possessions arrive in a steady trickle at a camp in Somalia. AU UN IST Photo / Tobin Jones, November 2013.

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About the Author

Aisha Abdelhamid (Birth-name Kathleen Vail) is a freelance lifestyle and environmental science writer currently living in Vancouver, BC. Her interests include environmental conservation, climate science, renewable energy, faith-based environmental activism, sustainable economics, corporate social responsibility, creative lifestyles, and healthy living.