Federal Support Unit formed to coordinate flood relief efforts

Federal Support Unit formed to coordinate flood relief efforts
Interior Affairs Minister Annelies Verlinden. Credit: Belga

A Federal Support Unit has been created to assist in coordinating relief efforts after the fatal floods in Belgium during July.

The unit was set up by Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden (CD&V), and comes on the heels of criticism of the relief efforts thus far, both in terms of the response of the Belgian military and the perceived lack of presence on the ground from the Red Cross, which was where Belgium directed people to donate money.

“We see that the disaster is of such magnitude and complexity, that not only coordination but also communication is needed in order to be able to match the needs and the offer of help as well as possible,” Verlinden said in a press release.

“We have seen in recent days that the need remains very high. People are asking a lot of questions about electricity, gas and food. In order to do this as well as possible, we are now going to continue to provide support. And we will make sure that we get the coordination to the people as soon as possible so they get the help they need.”

The federal crisis management phase that followed the deadly flooding ended when July did, and relief efforts since then have been handled by provincial crisis units led by governors, along with the Walloon Commission for Reconstruction (Commissariat Spécial à la Reconstruction).

The Federal Support Unit will assist both of these.

“There is no lack of good will on the part of the emergency services. Great efforts have been made by all parties involved. But the road is still long,” Verlinden said.

“I would like to assist Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo in the mammoth task that lies ahead of him. More than ever, it is important to tackle the challenges together. Thanks to the Federal Support Unit, the offer will be further tailored to the needs, in order to help as many victims as possible as quickly as possible.”

The Federal Support Unit includes several specialised staff members representing different disciplines, including Public Health, the Fire Service, Civil Protection and Defence and the Infocel of the National Crisis Centre.

Since the beginning of the disaster, 130 additional Federal Police personnel have also been deployed daily in the field.

Civil Protection will be contacting the mayors of the hardest hit cities and towns to find out exactly what needs they have, and list the priorities.

“They will remain available for as long as necessary,” said Minister Verlinden.

The creation of the Federal Support Unit is seen as a reaction to the many criticisms levelled against the disaster-relief aid that’s been provided so far, according to VRT.

That help was said to have started too slowly, and the coordination wasn’t always smooth.

“There are indeed many cries for help from the various municipalities,” acknowledged Verlinden.

“It is also normal that the assistance takes some time and that we cannot be everywhere at the same time. But what I want to do in advance is that we do everything within the federal government, so that the coordination and communication is as good as possible.”

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