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Floods: Inquiry launched into who knew what, and when

05:04 27/07/2021

After the severe floods which caused great damage and loss of life in eastern Belgium, especially in the Vesdre river valley, and subsequent flash floods in Namur, various voices have been raised questioning who knew what - and when did they know it.

Belgium is part of the European Flood Awareness System (Efas), a European structure which informs a country when a risk of flooding looms. The first flood warnings were sent to affected countries on 10 July.

In total, 25 warnings were issued between 10 and 14 July "for regions of the Rhine and Meuse basin". Some municipalities such as Limbourg and Chaudfontaine issued evacuation orders. Others didn’t - the city of Verviers’ website claimed: "Verviers should not be significantly impacted by the opening of spillways of the Eupen dam.”

"We hope that as it travels, the water will decrease and arrive in Verviers in a very limited way for a very limited time", alderwoman Sophie Lambert said on 14 July, two days before the deadly flooding hit.

The Walloon minister in charge of infrastructures, Philippe Henry, has now announced he wants "complete clarity" on the information which the Walloon administration was in possession of in the hours preceding the floods which devastated a good part of Wallonia, as well as on the course of actions taken in response to them.

With this in mind, the environmental minister is asking the Public Service of Wallonia (SPW) to publish all the information relating to the Efas data. Also an independent analysis will be commissioned on the management of hydraulic channels, and in particular the regulation of water by means of dams.

"The administrative procedures are under way and we hope to have conclusions at the end of the summer," Henry added. “The study should determine the information available at the heart of the crisis, its dissemination to the various levels concerned, and the decision-making process.”

Supported by the Flemish far-right party Vlaams Belang, the N-VA will propose the creation of a parliamentary committee of inquiry into last week's floods at the next Conference of Presidents.

“While it is normal to focus on local relief first, there are also issues which will at some point have to be considered," with the aim of "avoiding such disasters in the future or limit the damage, "said N-VA MP Yngvild Ingels.

Between 60 and 80 people gathered on Sunday afternoon at the Carrefour de l'Europe in front of Brussels-Central station, in solidarity with the victims of the floods and to link extreme weather events and global warming.

People posted words on the walls of the train station to express their solidarity with the victims of the floods in the south of the country and to demand measures to fight against global warming such as planting trees or instituting a tax on financial transactions.

Author Philippe Geluck sent a message. "All my thoughts are of course to the victims and their loved ones, but also to those who come to their aid. May this tragedy also make us think about the hell that millions, then billions of human beings will go through if we continue to abuse the planet as we have been doing for too long.

“In the meantime, let's heal the wounds, comfort and rebuild, courageously, thinking above all of the weakest.”

Photo: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga

Written by Richard Harris