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B-Fast team in Nepal to deliver aid after earthquake
A 43-member team from B-Fast, Belgium’s rapid reaction first aid and support unit, left Melsbroek military airport yesterday for Nepal, as the death toll from the earthquake there on Saturday exceeded 3,300. B-Fast is one of the world’s most experienced rapid response teams, having taken part in disaster relief operations in Haiti in 2010, the Philippines in 2013 and Nigeria last year.
“There are a lot of old hands among them, but the rest have plenty of experience, and they work with the material day in and day out,” said Chris De Pauw, assistant team leader. The team specialises in urban search and rescue and will concentrate its efforts in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu.
The earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, centred almost exactly on the capital. The shock is the most powerful since the Nepal-Bihar quake of 1934 and had been predicted by seismologists for some time. It triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing 17 people in what is the worst incident ever on the world’s highest mountain. The shock also caused casualties in border areas in China, India and Bangladesh.
B-Fast travels with 10 tonnes of its own material – everything from bottled water to tents– meaning it remains independent from local authorities. “We are there for first aid and to help find survivors,” said the team’s head of urban search and rescue, adding that it was impossible to say how long the mission would last.
Interior minister Jan Jambon was at Melsbroek on Sunday to see the team off. “It is extremely important to have all hands on deck when such a disaster hits, wherever in the world it may be,” he said. “Every hour is crucial, so it’s a good thing we have a group that can react so quickly.”
The initial response will cost the foreign affairs ministry €300,000, based on a 10-day mission. Whether Belgium will provide further assistance will depend on the need. “In theory, that can be supplied, but we will see on an international level what is needed.”