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Walloon government announces new measures to help flood-ravaged region
In the aftermath of the serious floods that affected many municipalities in Wallonia, the government has agreed on several measures to deal with the consequences of the disaster, focusing in particular on the reconstruction of the devastated areas.
A special police department, which will have a year-long mandate with the possibility of a renewal, will be assigned to assist the government and will be responsible for the coordination and management of emergency and reconstruction measures. The department will report to the Walloon government every week and will be under the authority of minister-president Elio Di Rupo. "This crisis management is a top priority," Di Rupo told reporters after new measures were announced.
The Walloon government will also create a Special Commission for Reconstruction. It will be led by Catherine Delcourt who is currently the district commissioner for the province of Liège, and Sylvie Marique, the secretary-general of the SPW, the Public Service of Wallonia. Delcourt will be in charge of local authorities while Marique will be in charge of the regional entities.
As of Wednesday, the Walloon government will recognise the floods of 14-16 July as a natural public disaster. Some 202 of the 262 municipalities in Wallonia have been declared disaster victims and will be eligible for help from the disaster fund. "This just shows the scale of the tragedy that we are experiencing," said Elio Di Rupo.
All 84 municipalities of the province of Liège are on the list of municipalities meeting the admission criteria for the fund. The same applies to the 38 municipalities of the province of Namur and the 44 of the province of Luxembourg. In addition, 18 communes in Walloon Brabant and 17 communes in Hainaut have been declared victims of the disaster.
Inhabitants affected by the floods in these municipalities will be able to benefit from financial compensation from Wallonia, if they meet the conditions for receiving aid.
Di Rupo also announced that a mechanism will be put in place to enable businesses and individuals to make donations to those affected. "We will need a lot of money," he said. Prime minister Alexander De Croo later confirmed that the federal government was working on a legal solution to allow companies to give more money than the current limit allows. Currently, this limit is €550,000.
In terms of funding, so far €27 million has been made available, out of a total of €50 million, for the Public Centre for Social Welfare (CPAS) and municipalities to rehouse the people affected. The remaining €23 million will be paid out at a later date once the estimate of the cost of the damage has been refined.
In this first phase, the municipalities most affected will receive €2 million each. These are Trooz, Limbourg, Pepinster, Theux, Verviers, Liège, Esneux-Tilff, Chaudfontaine and Rochefort. Other municipalities will receive aid of €500,000. These are the communes of Aywaille, Comblain, Dalhem, Spa, Olne, Houyet, Walcourt, La Roche-en-Ardenne, Durbuy, Marche-en-Famenne, Hotton, Nassogne, Aiseau-Presles, Ham-sur-Heure, Chatelet, Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve, Tubize, and Wavre.
The Walloon government is also providing financial assistance totalling €25 million for public service housing companies. The aim is to help these companies find rehousing solutions for the tenants affected. Of the €25 million earmarked for this, €15 million will initially be made available. The rest of the money will follow according to the estimated needs.
Another €35 million has been assigned to the affected municipalities and governors to address their most pressing needs.
The Walloon government also plans to help the intermunicipal waste management companies which will have to deal with astronomical amounts of waste caused by the floods. A budget of five million euros has been planned for this. Funds have also been assigned to combat oil pollution, and 42 000 tonnes of polluted land will have to be treated.
The government also wants to help businesses and the self-employed, especially those whose premises are currently unusable: some 750 temporary buildings will be rented for a period of three months to allow businesses to resume their activities. The budget for this lease is €3.6 million. A special telephone number, 1890, is available to companies in need of help, as well as a website, www.1890.be.
It was reported on Tuesday that the Chaudfontaine water plant, located on the banks of the Vesdre, had been so damaged by the floods that its stock of mineral water would soon run out. The ground floor of the plant, where the production and distribution of the spa town’s mineral water takes place, is currently under two metres of water.
"We have redistributed the stocks still available in order to supply our customers as well as possible but, in the coming weeks, we will unfortunately be temporarily unable to supply our Chaudfontaine range of products,” said Eva Lefevre, director of communications at Coca-Cola, Chaudfontaine’s parent company.
Teams of experts have been assessing the damage to the plant but so far, it appears that the springs and the various boreholes that bring water to the site have not been impacted or polluted by the flood.
The Spa mineral water plant was not affected by the floods. "But we still had to stop our production for 24 hours, because of the power cuts, between 15 and 16 July," a spokesperson said. Spa's water sources, which spread over more than 13,000 hectares, were also not affected by the floods. The Bru water plant, whose source is in Lorcé-Stoumont, was also spared.
Workers affected by the floods, like the 150 at the Chaudfontaine plant who were subject to technical lay-offs due to the disaster, will be eligible for temporary unemployment benefits, federal labour minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne announced on Monday.
This will allow recipients to keep 70% of their salary, in addition to €5.63 per day. Each affected worker will be able to apply for this scheme through his or her employer and each case will be considered depending on the situation of each claimant.
"The victims of these historic floods cannot be subjected to a double penalty," said Dermagne. “We had to make a gesture towards the workers who lost everything. Not everyone is able to return to work the next day, after having seen their lives turned upside down."
Meanwhile, caterers and food truck managers are being sought to help provide food in the flooded regions in Wallonia. The Event Confederation, a group of professional event federations, is looking for help in distributing between 7,500 to 8,000 meals a day to those affected by the disaster. "A lot of food trucks work in events, and this sector is currently largely at a standstill,” said the confederation’s Hugo Slimbrouck. “So, there is availability."
The confederation is working in collaboration with the Red Cross. The latter pays food trucks per meal provided, the aim being to "provide hot and healthy meals to the citizens affected, who, for example, no longer have gas".
"There was a pilot project at the end of last week and it is growing in strength," a Red Cross spokesperson said.
The organisation announced last week that food trucks would start distributing meals in the Liège regions of Chênée, Angleur and Kinkempois. The aim is now to extend this initiative.