20th anniversary of B-FAST - a new strategic vision for Belgian crisis assistance abroad

Today, 29 May, the 20th anniversary of B-FAST (Belgian First Aid and Support Team) -the permanent rapid intervention structure responsible for organising disaster relief abroad - is being celebrated in Brussels.

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Today, 29 May, the 20th anniversary of B-FAST (Belgian First Aid and Support Team) -the permanent rapid intervention structure responsible for organising disaster relief abroad - is being celebrated in Brussels. The idea of integrating and coordinating the expertise and efforts available in Belgium across multiple departments in order to efficiently help people and save lives arose during a conversation between the relevant ministers at the time. Some of them will be present this evening at the Royal Library of Belgium to celebrate 20 years of B-FAST.

With pooled expertise from the FPS Home Affairs, the FPS Policy and Support (BOSA), the FPS Public Health, the Ministry of Defence and the FPS Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, as well as the involvement of the Prime Minister's Office, B-FAST puts into practice the pursuit of peace, security, solidarity and international and multilateral cooperation, which Belgium is strongly committed to. In twenty years, more than eighty operations have been carried out in the four corners of the world.

Over the past 20 years, B-FAST has been operationally deployed in response to requests for assistance from affected countries to meet the humanitarian needs of victims of crises such as earthquakes, floods, explosions, the COVID pandemic or, more recently, conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza. This is done, depending on the specific needs in the field, by sending teams of specialised volunteers or equipment (medical and hygiene, tents and shelter, water purification, energy, emergency food aid).

Lessons were drawn from the experiences on the ground during these 20 years, the many successes and also the challenges. In addition, the world has evolved too, with longer and more complex crises succeeding each other and requiring longer-term emergency assistance. For instance, B-FAST deployed and operated an EMT (Emergency Medical Team) 2 field hospital in Turkey for several weeks after the February 2023 earthquakes. This field hospital provided treatment for more than 3 500 patients.

A new strategic vision was adopted to adapt B-FAST to current needs, so as to ensure professional, efficient and meaningful assistance in the coming years. This will focus on cooperation with partners, primarily the European Union. The presence of European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič, for the 20th anniversary of B-FAST, underlines the importance Belgium attaches to European coordination.

In concrete terms, the maximum duration of a B-FAST operation will be extended from the current 10 days to 3 months. Intervention in non-stable areas could also be considered, provided there are sufficient security guarantees. Safety obviously remains essential when assessing whether or not to deploy B-FAST modules and volunteers and experts. Sending a multidisciplinary reconnaissance team on site to analyse the situation at the beginning of a crisis will be strongly encouraged. Experience has shown that this saves valuable time when the B-FAST mission arrives on site. Smooth collaboration between B-FAST departments remains the key to success. The strategic vision describes the role of each of the actors and emphasises the complementary nature of the different areas of expertise.

In terms of budget, the structural increase in B-FAST's resources will allow better management of supplies and human resources to respond to the ever-increasing number of crisis situations.

With this new strategic vision, B-FAST, bolstered by its experience of the past 20 years and the expertise of its many volunteers, aims to further strengthen Belgium's role in European and international emergency relief.

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