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‘The sky fell on our head. Liège and its region had floods of an exceptional magnitude, leading to its worst catastrophe of the century!’

Interview with Willy Demeyer, Mayor of Liège, about the floods in Wallonia in July 2021

Liège residents leaving their homes during the 2021 flood. Source: Bruno Fahy/BelgaImage

Solidarity and European cooperation

The Liège region has experienced floods before. How does the July 2021 flood compare to previous ones? What was the essential first action which had to be taken?

  • there is a steep incline all along the Meuse, Vesdre and Ourthe.
Mayor Willy Demeyer. Source: Ville de Liège

Crisis management and emergency planning in Belgium

Willy Demeyer: In Belgium, emergency preparedness and response — commonly known as crisis/disaster management — is organised at municipal, provincial and federal level in accordance with the Royal Decree of 22 May 2019. The decree allocates tasks and responsibilities.

Disaster coordination at work

How has, in the larger Liège area, the coordination been between mayors and civil protection experts? Can you elaborate on that cooperation?

  • continuity of essential public services, in particular civil registries, in the municipalities most affected.
  • managing donations of food, hygiene products, furniture and household appliances by setting up a network for collection, storage and redistribution; and
  • centralising emergency rehousing services for those affected.
  • difficulty in accessing professional equipment to dry out the homes affected;
  • need for psychological support for victims;
  • need for legal and administrative assistance with the various compensation procedures;
  • need to continue or return to a ‘normal’ life for residents in the worst affected municipalities or neighbourhoods where both public infrastructure (sports hall, crèche, school, etc.) and shops were destroyed or severely damaged.

Learning curve for disaster preparedness?

While the Meuse is the main river going through Liège, a lot of water came from another source, from the Vesdre Valley. Was there a disaster plan anticipating this, and if so, did it work in practice?

Cross‑border info and reconstruction aid from different levels

Cross‑border floods such as we saw last summer show that some catastrophes are not confined to national borders. However, recovery and relief actions are often managed on a mostly national level. Where do you see opportunities for better and closer cooperation and synergies between neighbouring countries in the context of emergency response?



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