The A-Z of World Politics: #N: Netherlands

by Charlie_East_West on February 14, 2014

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Hello world. Britain is under water. As our country increasingly resembles the lost city of Atlantis, the debate continues on how best to defend our rain lashed sodden little island from future widespread flooding. As always with major infrastructure projects, we need to look overseas (not to cut overseas aid budgets) but to get some insight on how to do things well. For flood defence mechanisms, we therefore cross the North Sea and land in The Netherlands.

The Dutch can give us a lesson in many things – total football, speed skating, town planning, hockey, the consumption of a few naughty little things and of course, flood defence.

Flood control is a massively important issue for the Netherlands, with a close proximity to the North Sea combined with flat plains – about two thirds of the area is extremely vulnerable to flooding, while the country is among the most densely populated on Earth.

Natural sand dunes, human-made dikes, dams and floodgates provide the required defences against storm surges and water table rises. River dikes prevent flooding from water flowing into the country by the major rivers Rhine and Meuse, while a genius planning system of drainage ditches, canals and pumping stations (including the stereotypical Dutch windmills) keep the low lying parts safe from flooding.

As a response to the North Sea flooding disaster in 1953, even larger projects were then undertaken to further improve the safety against flooding and to reclaim large areas of land. The most important are the Zuiderzee Works and the Delta Works. The Netherlands now have all their sea inlets completely closed off from the sea by dams and barriers.

Their system of flood defence management is much more streamlined and efficient than the UK. Water control boards are the independent local government bodies responsible for maintaining this system. In the UK, like every governing organisation, our flood defence and relief management is a prism of over complicated bureaucracy and inertia by committee.

Unlike the UK, the Dutch plan ahead. They plan ahead on the basis of an extreme flood scenario of once every 10,000 years. The core flood defences are then evaluated and tested against this norm every 5 years.

The glorious word of: Stormvloedwaarschuwingsdienst (English: Storm surge warning service) makes a water level forecast in case of a storm surge and warns the responsible parties in the affected coastal districts immediately. The affected areas can then take immediate and appropriate measures depending on the expected water levels, such as evacuating areas outside the dikes, closing barriers and in extreme cases patrolling the dikes during the any forecasted storm.

All these components cost the Dutch approximately 1 billion Euro a year. But the cost is not a matter for debate. It is seen as an essential public service for the Netherlands. This is good cost benefit analysis. It is estimated that ignoring their flood defences would potentially cost 2000 billion euros.

The contrast to the UK is huge. Our government sit on their hands waiting on a sunny day. They cut the flood defence budgets, rather than reinforce them. It is a false economy. Basically, the Dutch get flood defence. We don’t.

Just like football, the Dutch invest in the flood defence infrastructures at all levels to get total flood defence. Just like football, their flood defence policy makes Britain look like they are playing a game from the dark ages.

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