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With Brussels as the capital of the European Union, Belgium is home to many different kinds of humanitarian actors, making the country the hub for humanitarian action planning at the European level.

Food security, Protection, Disaster management
Children, Women, Farmers

Scope of involvement


In recent years, Belgium has focused its humanitarian action on specific geographic areas characterised by complex crises and exposed to important and urgent humanitarian needs. These areas are: Sahel, African Great Lakes countries, Palestinian Territories, Pakistan and Afghanistan


Types of stakeholders

NGO in general

The first Belgian NGOs appeared during the 50s as initiatives of Catholic organisations and universities. In the 60s, the decolonisation process accelerated the creation of NGOs essentially oriented towards assisting new African countries and in 1964, the first political structure dedicated to development cooperation was put in place. The same year, following the international campaign against hunger launched by the FAO, several NGOs created the first Belgian multistakeholder structure for NGO coordination: SOS Faim.

An significant number of national and international NGOs have their headquarters in Belgium. There are also a number European umbrella organisations based in Brussels and an overarching platform for NGOs called the Civil Society Contact Group, with 432 associated NGO. VOICE (Voluntary Organisations in Cooperation in Emergencies) a network representing more than 80 NGOs active in humanitarian aid worldwide, and located in Brussels, is currently the main NGO discussion partner with the European Union on emergency aid and disaster risk reduction.

National Red Cross Society

The Belgian Red Cross, with the Dutch and Luxembourg Red Cross has, since 1994, organised 34 Emergency Response Units active at the international level. These intervention units are specialised in the implementation and management of large-scale humanitarian intervention.

Armed Forces

The Belgian army has played a growing role in the country’s logistical assistance to humanitarian actors and in the deployment of medical assistance to local populations in different operational fields.

State humanitarianism

Ministries or state agencies involved

The growing importance of humanitarian affairs led to the creation of a department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dedicated to development cooperation and humanitarian action. After the earthquake that hit Turkey in 1999, the federal government found it necessary to set up a more permanent structure (B-FAST) for rapid mobilisation of resources for relief and assistance operations. In 2009, the Belgian Fund for Food Security (BFFS) followed the Belgian Survival Fund, whose mission is to ensure that all dimensions (availability, access, stability, consumption) of food security are included as much as possible in its programmes, with its main operations being carried out in Sub-Saharan Africa . Over the last years Belgium has developed expertise in humanitarian affairs, and interestingly In 2010 alone, Belgium contributed to 1,8% of the worldwide humanitarian financing.

Legal framework

On 19th April 2014, a Royal decree defining the procedures related to humanitarian action has been signed, replacing the Royal decree of November, 19, 1996 related to short term Humanitarian Action and Rehabilitation for developing countries.


Searching for more efficient actions, Belgium as much as possible acts in coordination with other humanitarian actors but gives priority to collaborations with recognised humanitarian organisations like the International Red Cross, United Nations agencies and recognised NGOs.

Specific roles of international organisations

European Commission

The creation of ECHO in 1992 boosted the number of humanitarian actors located in Belgium. DG ECHO occupies a central place and many international organisations have set up an office in Brussels in order to strengthen their relations with ECHO.

United Nations

Since 2007, OCHA has been running a Liaison Office in Brussels in order to facilitate knowledge exchange and represents UN-OCHA in relevant European Union institutions (Commission, Parliament and Council), NATO, the Council of Europe, United Nations agencies, the ICRC, NGOs, think tanks and academic institutions based in Brussels


The ICRC delegation in Brussels covers the European Union, NATO, certain European armed forces and Belgium. It also supports ICRC headquarters in its dialogue with the Council of Europe and the OSCE. Since 2011, the ICRC, the Belgian Red Cross and NOHA are organising an Introductory Seminar on International Humanitarian Law in Brussels on a yearly basis.

Humanitarian Education

Higher education

As a member of NOHA, the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL), Louvain-la-Neuve offers a unique Master Program in Humanitarian Action focused on post-disaster rehabilitation and humanitarian management. Other Belgian universities also offer diverse Masters programs but these are more focused on development than on humanitarian action.

In-house training

Many humanitarian actors such as NGOs and organisations give training on many different issues to their staff.

Seminar/short courses

A great number of short or long public courses are also organised by some of the aforementioned actors, targeting a very diverse group; humanitarian professionals, medical staff, students, volunteers. Another way to improve professional skills in humanitarian action is to do an internship in a NGO, in a humanitarian organisation or in a Belgian or European political institution devoted to humanitarian action.

A NOHA Fall School is organised yearly to provide a global approach and specific tools to professionals.




Catherine Gourbin and Vincent Eiffling
Catholic University of Louvain

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