The Basic Answer
Victims of natural disasters do not specifically qualify for Zakat as one of the eight eligible categories that Allah has Himself exclusively specified in the Quran. But many instantly become part of designated Zakat-recipient groups because of the calamity that has struck them.
The Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace, said to someone requesting a Zakat payment from its collections:
Allah does not leave the distribution of the sadaqah [meaning here Zakat] to a prophet, nor anyone else. He Himself prescribes the distribution to eight categories [of people]. If you are of one of the categories, I shall give you as you deserve.” (Abu Dawud)
Here is the verse in the Quran in which Allah designates eight classes of people as eligible Zakat recipients:
Indeed, prescribed charitable offerings are only to be given to the poor and the indigent, and to those who work on administering it, and to those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free those in bondage, and to the debt-ridden, and for the cause of God, and to the wayfarer. This is an obligation from God. And God is all-knowing, all-wise.” (Surat Al-Tawbah, 9:60)
Yes. Many struck by calamities in creation become immediately entitled to Zakat through not one but several of its eight divinely designated groups.
For example, many of the 33 million people devastated by the recent catastrophic global warming floods that have put a third of Pakistan under water since June 2022 are Zakat eligible through at least three, and perhaps four, Zakat-recipient classes.
Category 1: The Poor (al-fuqara’)
Category 2: The Indigent (al-Masakin)
Category 4: The debt-ridden (al-gharimin)
And for many displaced from their homes
Category 6: The wayfarer (ibn sabil).
(See Why Pakistan Flood Emergency Relief Matters? See also Why You Should Donate to Pakistan Flood Relief?)
No. Zakat is an obligatory alms not a generic charity – neither in who you can give it to, nor in deciding how much you can give of your wealth as Zakat, nor in what wealth you can give it from and in what quantity. (See What Is Zakat?)
Zakat’s categories of eligible recipients have been designated by Allah, as we have seen. And its percentage amounts and qualified types of “Zakatable” wealth have been set by the Prophet, on him be peace.
Zakat is an individual obligation (faridah) of Divine Revelation (wahy) with two crucial general rules:
Zakat is owed on your wealth not your person
Zakat is owed by you to the specific people to whom it belongs as a debt that Allah has invested with you until that wealth has reached its maturity due date.
Allah and His Prophet, on him be peace, have made another category of freewill charity, voluntary sadaqah, that you are strongly encouraged to give freely, frequently, and abundantly from at your discretion. (See What Is the Difference Between Sadaqah and Zakat?
Yes, provided you calculate your Zakat from Zakatable wealth and pay it to victims who qualify as Zakat recipients.
But you need not, and we should not, limit our giving to paying only Zakat to victims of climate catastrophe in Pakistan or East and Central Africa; or for the winter relief of the displaced of Syria in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, or of Afghanistan there and in Pakistan; or in emergency relief for the victims of war and conflict in Yemen or Kashmir; or victims of genocide and apartheid like the Rohingya or the people of Ghaza and the West Bank of Palestine.
We should give as much, as often, and as generously as we can to all of them and others from our wealth through voluntary sadaqah.
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In 2022, 91¢ from each dollar donated went directly toward programs serving those in need. 4¢ went to administrative costs & 5¢ went to fundraising costs.