Rotary ... een hulpverlenende organisatie ?!

Samstag, 28. August 2021

Immediately after the devastating floods in the south of Belgium, many Rotary Clubs from all districts of Rotary Belux (Belgium-Luxembourg) mobilised to help those affected.

After a few weeks, it was decided to set up a central coordination structure ...

03-SEP-2021 - Situation in Pepinster


Situation report

On 15 and 16 July 2021, our country was hit by floods - flash floods in some places - which caused severe destruction and killed 42 people.
A vast area in the valley of the Vesdre between the south of Liège and Eupen was most severely affected.

Water levels of up to 2.7m above street level destroyed collective infrastructure, the contents of private houses, shops, banks, schools, ... vehicles, crops, cultural infrastructure, heritage and utilities were washed away.

People of Action

Within the Rotary community - as with large parts of the population - all kinds of initiatives arose from day one from the Clubs to help the stricken population:

  • Preparation and distribution of meals
  • Collection of food and primary relief goods (e.g. hygiene products)
  • Reception of evacuees and displaced persons
  • Clearing rubble and cleaning houses, churches, schools, etc.
  • Supply of tools, cooking cookers and other materials and equipment lost in the flood
  • Special expertise: e.g. assistance in the conservation of artworks from affected churches
  • ...

Meuse, Ourthe, Vesdre, ...

Since the entire territory of Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is covered by Rotary Clubs, for each affected city, municipality or neighbourhood there was always at least one Club whose members went to the scene to offer assistance.
In some cases, this assistance was limited to a few days ... Those places where we speak of a "classic" small flood of a few centimetres or a few tens of centimetres of water in the streets.
The situation in the Vesdre valley was totally different. The volume of water displaced, the speed of descent and the eventual height of the water meant that the entire collective and private infrastructure was severely damaged, and recovery - if at all possible - will take months or years.

Taking a look at Rotary's organisation chart: Rotary BeLux (Belgium-Luxembourg) is divided into four districts: D-2130, D-2140, D-2150 and D-2160.

The basins of Meuse, Ourthe and Vesdre cross the last three districts. The centre of gravity of the terrain action was and is very clearly in D-2160 (see a.o. Polaris for the geographical delimitations).

Districts and clubs

Rotary's universal motto "Service above Self" - selfless service to society - was not limited to D-2160.
On the one hand, because of a universal willingness to help as a citizen and Belgian, and on the other hand because Rotary also has a strong "x knows y at Club Z" interconnection and Clubs therefore 'personally' approached Clubs in the affected areas, actions were (and are) set up in all corners of BeLux (including Luxembourg) and even Rotary France.

Collecting financial resources (via the Service to Community committees or special actions), Rotarians in the field in the affected areas, collecting or purchasing all kinds of products and materials, deploying expertise or networks ...
All means were and are used...

A daily pile of debris

Rotary ... as a weakness ...

A strong organisation ... with a weak structure

A tower of strength...

To be taken almost literally, the Rotary Clubs and their members proved to be the 'tower of strength' in the surf in many affected areas.
While numerous admirable ad hoc volunteer initiatives were taken to help with debris removal, cooking and food distribution, delivery of relief supplies and numerous other acute care tasks immediately after the actual flooding, many of these initiatives also suffered from
- absence of an institutional structure;
- problem of continuity; - absence of local anchoring;
- practical problems, such as insurance for volunteers, transport, bank accounts, etc.

Our Rotary Clubs:
- are - literally - everywhere, sometimes for almost 100 years;
- are interwoven with local structures, public administration, economy, ..;
- have a functioning with a legally covered framework, committees, insurance of members, accounting transparency, ..;
- a national and international network; - communication tools such as Polaris; and
- groups of Members who know each other inside out and know how to work together.

... but ...

In peacetime, Rotary Clubs act as autonomous entities, each with its own governance, financial freedoms, strategic priorities ... and their interaction with each other is limited mainly to voluntary temporary projects.
The higher level, the District or RBS (Rotary BeLux) are mainly administrative functional bodies that do not intervene in the autonomy of a Club.

The absence of an umbrella instrument turned out to be a 'problem' after an initial helping phase.
- The need for help exceeded the possibilities of one local club;
- Donations received centrally had to be prioritised for spending;
- Clubs providing aid from other parts of the country needed to understand the needs on the ground;
- Centralised information flows and logistics were non-existent.

Tipping Point ...

DRCM ... say again ?

The spontaneous and evolving request of the Clubs directly involved to have some form of umbrella support, led in early August to Luc Rombout (Gent-Zuid) - who has been professionally active in the field of crisis management for several decades - being asked to help set up such an umbrella capacity.

The choice of words for what could/must be developed was already a challenge, as any initiative had to be able to fit into Rotary's existing structures and processes ... namely the 'cloud' of autonomous non-hierarchically structured Clubs.

Under a new 'flag': Disaster Relief & Crisis Management (DRCM), these new processes within Rotary BeLux were built during the month of August.

" Together, we see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change
— across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.

Mission of DRCM

The mission of DRCM within Rotary BeLux is:
To provide umbrella  services to Rotary structures and members to form a force multiplier in the context of our assistance to victims of catastrophes, making our actions as integrated, efficient and effective as possible.

Some basic principles

1. The basic principles of Rotary's operation and organisation remain unchanged and are incorporated into a mission-oriented net-centric structure;

2. Rotary DRCM's deployment is non-conflicting. Wherever possible, partnerships with other existing and ad hoc structures will be facilitated or encouraged, but without denying Rotary's fundamental objectives and values.

3. Rotary's Four Questions and Seven Goals are the core of our actions and the ethics and morality by which Rotarians are employed in Disaster Relief.
These determine our target groups and the priority areas that will be supported.

4. Rotary DRCM does not act vicariously and will therefore, in principle, not undertake actions for which other institutional actors - governments, insurers, ... - have a main responsibility. - authorities, insurers, etc., unless there is an urgent humanitarian need.

5. Rotary is a universal humanitarian organisation that acts without the limitation of administrative, linguistic, religious or other boundaries.

Focus August

In the first weeks a fundamental framework was drawn up and put in place, so that the mutual contacts and information flows could be structured:

  1. - All the locations in the Vesdre valley where Rotarians were active were mapped out: an impressive 24 zones!
  2. - For each of these locations, a lead Club was identified;
  3. - In each of these Clubs, a local coordination cell was set up - an OSOCC (On-Scene Operational Coordination Cell);
  4. - In each OSOCC, a "liaison officer" - a local contact - was appointed to be Rotary's eyes and ears with the local population, public authorities and other aid organisations;
  5. - A digital information system "EDEN" was rolled out;
  6. - A start was made with the cataloguing of processes, the search for storage spaces, a supply and demand mechanism, etc;
  7. - The first informal inter-district coordination took shape.

'Order of Battle'

More information

In future contributions, we will go into more detail about these actions, structures and processes and try to take you through the undoubtedly months-long evolution of the issues and how we from Rotary try to provide the most appropriate form of social support.

direct questions:

luc.rombout.rotary @

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Organisational structures

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Situation in the most affected areas, more than a month after the floods