Interior minister eyes major crisis management overhaul

Belgium's Interior minister Annelies Verlinden has unveiled plans to thoroughly reform crisis management in the country, financial newspaper De Tijd reports. The proposed measures include a stronger 'unity of command' and a focus on post-disaster reconstruction - which should already start during an emergency situation.

Several incidents in recent years, such as the devastating floods in Wallonia two years ago, have painfully exposed the gaps in Belgium's disaster management. Post-disaster recovery was problematic and slow, and victims received too little emergency aid due to a lack of coordination. More recently, at the beginning of November, the need for clearer agreements and better preparation was again painfully demonstrated when two people - including a five-year-old - lost their lives in Ghent during storm Ciarán.

Post-crisis recovery

"In recent years, we as a country have experienced some very impactful events," said Verlinden, stressing the need to update the regulations on emergency planning and crisis management structures. The plan introduces a clearer delineation of responsibilities for mayors, governors and the minister of the Interior in the event of a disaster. Notably, it also includes a focus on post-crisis recovery efforts, a departure from previous frameworks.

"In recent years, we as a country have experienced some very impactful events"

Verlinden aims to establish a permanent role for a recovery coordinator to anticipate and address post-disaster challenges, ensure preparedness and avoid ad hoc measures during a crisis. The proposed recovery coordinators - specific to certain types of disasters - will initiate the mapping of essential emergency response needs, such as shelter, drinking water and coordination of different services needed for recovery.

Communication challenges

The plan also seeks to address the communication challenges experienced during the floods. Reports highlighted frustrations at various levels due to fragmented information sharing. Verlinden aims to clarify the division of responsibilities between mayors, governors, the minister of the Interior and the national crisis centre at different stages of a disaster, emphasising a 'unity of command'.

The government given Verlinden the green light to further develop the reform plans. While crisis management involves federal, regional and local authorities, the next step is to discuss with the regions the possibility of a cooperation agreement. A detailed plan with estimated costs is expected in the spring.


Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden © BELGA PHOTO JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE

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