Unemployed men are being registered in Brussels. The picture was taken in 1915, when the economy was standing still. Most industries closed, being seized by the occupier, or refusing to work for the enemy. For others still, the scarcity of raw material and the lack of prospects led to slow but steady decay. The population immediately felt the consequences. The number of unemployed rose dramatically, and pre-war unemployment funds were unable to cope with the situation. New structures arose to help the impoverished population.
The situation worsened by the absence of the Belgian government, which was exiled to Le Havre. In 1914, in a context of humanitarian emergency, the Comité national de secours et d’alimentation (National Relief and Food Committee) was created in Brussels. Mayor Adolph Max and other important members of the Belgian financial and industrial sphere like Ernest Solvay were at the head of the enterprise. Sometimes described as a “State within a State”, this powerful institution organised the distribution of unemployment help. Additionally, the municipalities of Brussels strived to create jobs for the civilians. Many urban constructions and reparations started, namely road works and tree cutting. In May 1916, the Germans banned this practice, and started deporting the unemployed to Germany a few months later. The news of this measure spread, causing terror among civilians.