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A helicopter helps put out a forest fire in Slovenia (2022) (© EU2022).
The EU Civil Protection Mechanism allows the EU to efficiently provide assistance in case of need in the EU and beyond. Belgium invoked the mechanism for the severe floods in 2021. Through B-FAST, our country provides emergency aid to foreign countries.
The number of natural disasters has clearly been on an upward trend in recent years. Floods, forest fires, storms, earthquakes and the like spring to mind. On top of that come the man-made disasters that include conflicts, pollutions and explosions.
Unique point of contact
To meet that need, the EU has had the EU Civil Protection Mechanism (EU-CPM) at its disposal since 2001 to provide rapid, high-emergency aid anywhere in the world, including the EU countries themselves. In essence, the EU-CPM is a platform that serves as a single point of contact. If a government - or the UN or any UN agency - faces a catastrophe that it cannot handle on its own, it can request assistance through the mechanism.
Participating States of the EU-CPM - the EU Member States + Norway, Iceland, Turkey, Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia and Bosnia & Herzegovina - can find the current list of emergency requests there. They can then independently decide whether or not to call on the mechanism, based in part on their capabilities and intervention conditions. To countries in need, the CPM provides a list of the types of emergency aid offered by EU-CPM countries.
Drinkable water in Pakistan thanks to a B-FAST water treatment module (2022) (© B-FAST).
In Belgium, the B-FAST emergency intervention team is always ready to respond to foreign emergencies. The FPS Foreign Affairs takes care of its secretariat's duties, but Defence and the FPSs Home Affairs, Public Health and Policy and Support (BOSA) also play their part. B-FAST can provide emergency temporary shelter, water purification, field hospitals and general emergency response, among other services.
B-FAST uses the EU-CPM in most of its interventions. For example, Pakistan recently invoked the mechanism. After all, the country suffered unprecedented flooding when it saw one-third of its territory flooded. In response, our country decided to send to Pakistan a water treatment module and a team of experts through B-FAST.
From time to time, a country in need first contacts our embassy to inquire about assistance possibilities before officially submitting an emergency application via the EU-CPM. One advantage of the CPM for Belgium is that the EU reimburses 75% to 80% of the operational costs.
Assistance to Ukrainian refugees in Moldova (2022) (© EU2022).
Over 600 aid requests
Since its inception in 2001, the EU-CPM has answered over 600 requests for help in the EU and beyond. In 2021 alone, the mechanism was activated 114 times, which is a record. The COVID-19 pandemic was, of course, no stranger to this. The EU supplied millions of protective masks, medical gloves and ventilators.
But 2021 was also the year of repatriations from Afghanistan, fierce forest fires in southern Europe, the western Balkans and Austria, as well as a hurricane and earthquake in Haiti. Not to mention, last year Belgium itself called on the mechanism to ask for help with the severe floods.
Then this year, the war in Ukraine prompted the largest emergency operation since the mechanism was created. Through the EU-CPM, assistance was provided not only in Ukraine itself, but also to Ukrainian refugees in neighbouring countries such as Poland, Slovakia and Moldova. Among the millions of items donated were first aid kits, shelter equipment, firefighting equipment, water pumps, power generators, fuel and so on.
Training civilian protectors for an earthquake in Slovenia (2021) (© EU2021).
The fact is that the CPM allowed for a much more efficient use of existing resources, in part by avoiding an unnecessary duplication of effort. Moreover, the CPM has spare equipment - the "rescEU reserve" - which was built up with private donations. That includes a fleet of firefighting planes and helicopters and a medical evacuation plane, in addition to a stock of medical equipment and field hospitals. The EU-CPM also provides training for civil protection experts from EU Member States and other participating countries.
The EU itself wants to step up its commitment to prevention and preparedness by conducting thorough risk assessments and setting up early warning systems within the EU, among others. It is also currently developing capabilities to better respond to nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological incidents.
More info: EU Civil Protection Mechanism