Belgium has a coastline on the North Sea. Around 32 % of the population (3.619.820 inhabitants) live in coastal regions1, as compared with the EU-28 average of 42 % (Eurostat, 2015).2 13 of Belgiums's 44 Arrondissements (Arrondissementen/Arrondissements) are coastal (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Map of administrative regions in BELGIUM at NUTS-3 level3
Belgium is a federal state divided into three regions (NUTS-1 level): Brussels Capital, Flanders and Wallonia. The latter two regions are subdivided into five provinces each. The territories of regions and communities overlap and both communities have competences in Brussels. The provinces (NUTS-2 level) are subordinate to federal level, but are also autonomous political communities responsible for all provincial matters (CoR, 2012). The state has no formal authority over regions and communities (there is no hierarchy between federal and regional/community levels) (Castanheira et al. 2016).
In part, due to the country’s three distinct linguistic and cultural communities, the regions are actually becoming more powerful than the federal government in some policy areas (e.g. in spatial planning, transport, education, culture, applied research) (Ibid).
At municipal (LAU 2) level, activities are centred around maintenance of public order and local services such as road maintenance, planning permission, public registry and organisation of elections.
TABLE 1: OVERVIEW OF TERRITORIAL DIVISIONS IN Belgium USING NOMENCLATURE OF TERRITORIAL UNITS FOR STATISTICS (NUTS) and LOCAL ADMINISTRATIVE UNITS FOR STATISTICS (LAU). SOURCE: GADM database, version 2.8, 2015 and Euro Geographics, 2013
|NUTS level||Name||Total units||Coastal units|
|NUTS 1||Regions (Gewesten / Régions)||3||1|
|NUTS 2||Provinces (Provincies / Provinces)||11||1|
|NUTS 3||Arrondissements (Arrondissementen / Arrondissements)||44||14|
|LAU 2||Municipalities (Gemeenten / Communes)||589||149|
There is a strong tradition of consensual policymaking in Belgium whereby the government consults most established non-state actors to facilitate the acceptance of policy (Castanheira et al. 2016). Employers’ associations and trade unions (known as 'social partners') are systematically summoned for participation in strategic decision-making on socioeconomic issues and consultative bodies (e.g. Federal Council for Sustainable Development) gathers representatives of environmental organizations (Ibid.).
GOVERNANCE OF COASTAL ZONES AND DISASTER RISK
Coastal protection and management
Coastal governance is only of relevance for the Flemish region as the other two regions (Brussels Capital and Wallonia are land-locked).The Coastal Division (Department Coast) of the Flemish Government is the main body responsible for coastal protection infrastructure and management.
The “Masterplan for Coastal Safety”, which has been approved by the Flemish Government in 2011, and which is currently being implemented, aims to protect the coast, people and activities such as recreation and tourism from erosion, sea level rise and storms with a return period of 1000 years. Where small costs result in high benefits, protection against larger storms may also be implemented for additional areas. This masterplan covers the mid-term and has a time horizon that extends to 2050
The regional government project “Vlaamse Baaien” (Flemish Bays) aims to develop an integral long term (2100) vision for future coastal policy. The project is based on five pillars for future development of the coast: safety, naturalness, attractiveness, durability and development. The Flemish Bays project is managed by the Flemish policy domain Mobility and Public Works, who published a first vision document for this project in 2012, and who were in the process of reorganizing the project structure at the end of 2016. Different options are being explored: a policy to preserve the new coast line as set out in the Masterplan of Coastal Safety; the feasibility of creating new areas in front of the coast; the (seawards) extension and development of the harbours; the possibility of the construction of islands in front of the coast; and ecosystem based approaches.
Flood risk management
There is no national approach to implement the EU Floods Directive 2007/60/EU in Belgium. Belgium has a regional setting for Flood Risk Directive implementation in Flanders (Flemish decree on integrated water policy) and Wallonia (Walloon decree on Water, art.53). The two regions apply Article 13.1 (b) (mapping and establishment of flood risk management plans) separately. At the time of submitting the Belgian preliminary flood risk assessment reporting (2011), there was no information for the Brussels-Capital region. The reporting on Belgian flood hazard and risk maps was completed on schedule in 2014 covering activities in the three regions. Flood risk management plans (2015) are available for the Wallonia and Rhine regions. (For details of Floods Directive implementation in Belgium and other EU Member States, please read the RISC-Kit comparative assessment of Member State implementation of the Floods Directive.)
There is no national contingency plan in Belgium for emergencies involving flooding. Every municipality has its own specific contingency plans on issues relevant to that municipality. The provincial authorities of West-Flanders also have an overarching plan for their specific role during (flooding) emergencies.
The Flemish Coordination Committee on Integrated Water Policy (CIW) set up an integrated approach to the Decree on Integrated Water Policy through a platform to consult the different policy domains and administrative levels that are involved in the water policy, together with the water company.
The Royal Meteorological Institute contributes to monitoring the weather and warning of oncoming storms at national level.
Disaster risk reduction
Crisis management is organised at the federal, provincial and municipal (local) levels. Responsibilities during a crisis are defined depending on the magnitude of the event: a municipal scale event management belongs to the mayor; at provincial level it is the responsibility of the provincial governor. For national issues, the Ministry of Home Affairs is responsible.
The Ministry of Home Affairs is the highest federal body in civil protection, and the Minister of Internal Affairs has the chief decision making power. The subordinate Crisis Coordination Centre is responsible for planning and organisation during crises and also deals with issues of public order during major events. When a disaster event of federal magnitude occurs, the three bodies in the federal crisis centre that contribute to the decision process are activated: an assessment cell of experts, a management cell of policy and decision makers, and an information cell. At operational level, the response is implemented through several tasks related to 5 sectors: (i) assistance operations, (ii) medical, sanitary and psychosocial assistance, (iii) local police in to the area of the emergency situation, (iv) logistical support and (v) information.
In general, the emergency response is characterized by the activation of fire brigades at the municipal level, while the Civil Protection service is defined at federal level. In particular, the Civil Protection consists of six operational units, coordinated by the Directorate of Operations. It belongs to the Directorate General for Civil Security, which is the competent authority for national civil protection coordination. It is responsible for Civil Protection (directly) and fire brigades at municipal level (indirectly). It coordinates activities of prevention, intervention and crisis management, communication, refunding and more.
The following section examines some of the specific policies for coastal protection and disaster risk reduction in Belgium.
Table 2: Overview of key policies for coastal protection and disaster risk reduction in Belgium
|Civil protection||Royal Decree of 16 February 2006||
|Water and river basin management||Decree on Integrated Water Policy||
The Risc-Kit project has identified some of the main strengths of the Belgian policies for coastal protection and disaster risk reduction as well as challenges to address.
- a centralised approach for coastal protection: the Division Coast from the Flemish Government is the focal point of responsibility for coastal protection infrastructure.
- Spatial planning in the coastal zone
- Cost-effective coastal protection for the future, including effects of climate change
- An integrated, mulit-sectoral vision for the future Belgian Coast (which might be a result of the currently ongoing Flemish Bays project) in contrast to the different sectoral initiatives that currently exist.