One year of deadly floods: Belgian authorities to attend tribute in Wallonia
The Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde are travelling tomorrow, July 14, to Limbourg (province of Liège) to meet the local authorities, citizens and emergency services representatives. They will attend a tribute ceremony organized by the Walloon Region in Chênée (city of Liège) to remember those who died during the summer floods last year. The Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Minister-President Elio Di Rupo and Liège Mayor Willy Demeyer will also speak in the ceremony and meet the families of the deceased.
One year ago, Belgium saw a rainfall wreak havoc on large parts of the country, especially in Wallonia and Limburg. The deadly floods — 41 people lost their lives as a result of the extreme weather — saw buildings being flattened and even entire villages being destroyed. Many families lost almost all their possessions, and some are still displaced after their house was demolished.
The damage will require billions of euros to repair. The Walloon Region had initially estimated that all the damage concerned would amount to 1.670 billion, including 991 million at its expense. Since then, this amount has been reassessed upwards, to 2.069 billion euros, which implies that 399 million in additional financing must be the subject of negotiations between the public authorities and the insurers.
Di Rupo highlighted the need to review the 2014 law which limits insurance interventions.
"Originally, fire insurance was reserved for fires. It was then extended to natural disasters with an intervention ceiling. Normally, we should have been quiet, but climatic disasters radically change the situation. Today, we cannot continue with this law, whose ceilings were based on the averages of previous years", explained the Minister-President, also underlining the difficulty "of defining these climatic risks".
The federal minister in charge of the file, the socialist Pierre-Yves Dermagne, has already made contact with the Regions and a meeting will be organized with the three minister-presidents "as soon as possible".
"We are only at the beginning of a process that must be seen in its entirety, the objective being to find a solution that takes climate change into account. We are on the way. Let's meet again in September," he said.
Experts have warned that long periods of droughts are in Belgium to stay, and these make the country more susceptible to flooding during moments of heavy precipitation, as the ground is too dry, meaning heavy precipitation hardly penetrates into the soil.
After the floods, the so-called Celex (Flood Expertise Cell) was set up, bringing together meteorological experts from the Royal Meteorological Institute (KMI), hydrological experts, river managers and relevant emergency services, which should see governors, local authorities and emergency services being briefed on the situation more quickly, ahead of the disaster already happening.
The region is trying to improve its water storage capacity. At the Eupen reservoir, which played a crucial role in the damage caused by the floods, the capacity has already been expanded from 2.8 million cubic metres to 7 million.
A new website was launched by the region’s hydrological service, where all data on precipitation, water levels and flows are gathered on a single platform (https://hydrometrie.wallonie.be). It will also publish pre-warnings and flood warning messages.
© BELGA PHOTO (BRUNO FAHY)