The Netherlands and their flooding problem

The summer of 2021 was the summer of floods for the Benelux. These natural disasters will happen more often and on a larger scale. With the Netherlands laying mostly below the sea level, are the Dutch prepared for such disasters, or are there still a lot of precautions to be taken? With climate change accelerating day by day and the sea level rising, the Netherland’s safety is in jeopardy.

The Rijkswaterdienst is in charge of keeping the Netherlands safe from extreme flooding. Their mission is to keep the Netherlands flood-free, with clean water and a green environment. Rob Haegeman, worker at the Rijkswaterdienst, comments on the future water struggle: “The Netherlands will never be fully prepared for extreme flooding, we prepare ourselves based on what happened in the past.”

The heavy rainfall last July is a proven example of how some areas in the Netherlands are not prepared for extreme weather circumstances. “There was a big flood in 1993, since then we have made plans to redirect and widen rivers, so disasters as such wouldn’t happen again.” Although the rivers were ready to take the rain, the creeks weren’t, causing overflow and swirling streams this summer. “We know there needs to be a thinking process, to reflect on these unfortunate events,” Haegeman says.

But the issue doesn’t end with unexpected heavy rainfall, other climate problems like droughts are also a big contributor to heavy floods. “Because of droughts, the soil collapses due to lack of moisture. If this happens the sea level could drop, together with the water permeability. Low water permeability in combination with heavy rainfall, could prove very dangerous in the future.”

To prevent future natural disasters, several Dutch cities have implemented climate-change adaptation plans. Amsterdam for example tries to prepare for future heatwaves, floods, waterlogging and droughts. “Amsterdam is a densely populated and densely built city. The solidification of the city is a big problem we’re trying to resolve by encouraging green gardens and collecting rainwater ecologically,” tells council worker Lise Doorn, responsible for Spatial Planning, Sustainability, Circular Economy and Land Matters.

Endangerment of Amsterdammers inaccessibility for emergency instances, prolonged power failure, damaged heritage… These are only a few examples of problems that can arise after heavy floods. “A few places in Amsterdam are still too vulnerable if floods were to happen. These places need extra protection, so we don’t fall into endless, unpayable repairs,” Doorn tells. To keep Amsterdam safe, the future focus needs to be laid on enforcing and maintaining dams and to rearrange the city in such ways it is protected against extreme weather conditions.

The question still remains, will large parts of the Netherlands be submerged by water in a few decennia? “We suspect that the sea level will keep rising, but we’ve prepared for several scenarios to stop future heavy floods in the Netherlands,” Haegeman adds.