Based on the experiences of the relief and assistance operations of Belgium to Turkey, when it was hit by earthquakes in August and November 1999, the Federal Government deemed it necessary to set up a more permanent structure for relief and assistance operations that could be mobilized at any time. Its objective is to give a quicker and more efficient response to emergency situations. When human lives are at stake, one can never be too efficient.
In November 2000, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Home Affairs and the Minister for Defense proposed to the Federal Council of Ministers the creation of an emergency relief structure to assist a country or countries affected by a man-made or natural disaster.
The Royal Decree of 28 February 2003 confirmed this decision by the establishment of, firstly, a Coordinating Council for emergency relief and assistance abroad and, secondly, a permanent support structure B-F.A.S.T (Belgian First Aid and Support Team).
The Minister of Foreign Affairs holds the Presidency of the Coordination Council. In crisis management, a quick reaction is of paramount importance. Within the first 12 hours a decision for assistance or relief must be translated into action. Therefore, communication lines between the decisional level and the operators in the field must be short and direct. For this reason the permanent structure (the B-FAST Secretariat) has been integrated into the administration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Bureau of the Secretary General). The Secretariat supports and maintains the efficient execution of the decisions for relief or assistance by stimulating cooperation between departments concerned.
B-FAST: Intervention scope and criteria
The strategic operational framework of B-FAST implies making Belgian capacity available to other states, if these states make a request and are facing an unexpected emergency situation that exceeds their proper capabilities. The flexibility, the interdisciplinary character as well as the fast response time are determining for the B-FAST structure.
The Royal Decree of 28/02/2003 defines the broad outlines of this strategic framework, and use following important criteria:
The following conditions must be met before the Belgian government decides to deploy a B-FAST operation:
• The size of the disaster, natural or man-made, must exceed the capabilities of the country hit by the disaster to such extent that it poses a threat to the health or the lives of the population in the disaster zone.
• The country hit by the disaster must launch a request for relief to the international community.
• In case of an armed conflict in the disaster zone, an intervention by B-FAST is excluded.
• B-FAST operations cannot exceed 10 days
• B-FAST operations solely include immediate emergency relief.
B-FAST participates in the international coordination mechanisms for dealing with disasters. The operations abroad are carried out in coordination with the international partners (UN, EU, NATO) and are based on the added value of B-FAST, e.g. the domains in which B-FAST can provide expertise and/or in which the Belgian capacities are appreciated by the international community.
For practical and logistic reasons and according to the proportionality principle concerning the use of the available means, an intervention radius of maximum 6,000 km from Belgium is the limit for B-FAST operations abroad. That, however, is not an absolute standard.