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How the Netherlands Is Building Up Climate Resilience Against Flooding

by Liao Er Dong Europe Jul 28th 20225 mins
How the Netherlands Is Building Up Climate Resilience Against Flooding

Sandwiched between Belgium and Germany in Western Europe, the tiny country of the Netherlands has been constantly battered by the North Sea. With one-third of its land situated under sea level, the country seems to be the most fragile under climate change-triggered sea-level rise. Given such dreadful circumstances, the country strives to be ambitiously ahead in the building of climate resilience and adaptation. The visionary National Climate Adaptation Strategy (NAS) launched in 2016 gives impetus to new climate adaptation initiatives nationwide. Here is how the Netherlands turns climate-ravaging menace into opportunities for a sustainable future and increased climate resilience.

The low-lying country is not only characterised by its unusual elevation, but also the relatively dense distribution of lakes, rivers, and canals. Such extraordinary terrain makes the territory extremely prone to floods.

According to sea level rise projections, the capital Amsterdam is second on the list of cities at risk of flooding by 2050. Considering the current scenario, more than 700,000 people – equivalent to 97% of the city’s total population – could be displaced by the end of the century.

Fortunately, the country is implementing a series of incredibly efficient flood prevention and control systems as well as mitigation strategies that are massively increasing its climate resilience.

You might also like: Sea Level Rise Projections: Top 10 Cities at Risk of Flooding

The Delta Programme in Flood Mitigation

The First Delta Programme was launched as early as 1953 in response to the devastating storm surge which savagely hit the coastlines of the southern part of the North Sea, killing more than 1,800 people across the country. Primarily, the programme initiated a series of coastal engineering designs, including the construction and renovation of dikes, the adoption of modern engineering construction technologies, and the proposal of management strategies. For the past half-century, conspicuous effects in reducing the risk of floods and securing land safety have been witnessed. 

However, social and environmental circumstances have shifted over the past six decades. To keep abreast with the times, the Delta Programme has altered its missions and accentuated the importance of climate adaptation. Making the country climate-proof has become one of the government’s fundamental aims. Today, the programme lays emphasis on incorporating fresh water supply, flood mitigation, and flood-resilient spatial planning for climate adaptation and gleans important insights to establish long-term climate resilience. 

In the report of the National Delta Programme 2022, a map of climate projects is brought forward. This map is designed to reflect each location’s vulnerabilities to flooding, higher water, and precipitation, along with the efforts and costs estimated to master such vulnerabilities. The data collected can be used in the preview of future residential areas, including both new development projects and the densification of current regions, and it can foresee up to the year 2150. The map can serve as the knowledge foundation for discussions about long-term and climate-proof solutions to the urbanisation tasking.

Climate Resilience in Agriculture

The importance of ensuring food safety can never be overstressed in enhancing a nation’s climate adaptive construction. Frequently damaged by extreme weather conditions, the crops or production resources in the Netherlands demand urgent measures. To increase food self-sufficiency, the Dutch blazed their own trail. In general, their strategy is built on intensive collaborations between the government, academic institutions, and the private sector – the so-called “golden triangle”. Linking climate-related adaptation and mitigation interventions in agricultural strategies are encouraged. Therefore, the prototype of the framework for the Dutch enterprise and agricultural policy-making emerged under the national strategy.

Smart technologies are a key part of seeking alternatives to traditional farming in the Netherlands. One remarkable example is the floating farm developed in Merwehaven, the port of Rotterdam. The farm – raising dairy cows – is built in a sustainable, innovative, transparent way and it puts animal welfare as its top priority. 

The building was designed by adopting circular design concepts. It produces all of its own electricity via floating solar panels and supplies fresh water using a built-in system for collecting and purifying rainwater. The grass to feed the cows is from city parks and golf courses as well as leftover foods like potato peelings, bran, and brewer’s grains. The manure is used to make a natural fertiliser. This way, environmental impacts and energy consumption are substantially minimised. The floating farm can envision the future for sustainable urban agriculture in the midst of a climate crisis. The three-decker floating farm offers a valuable solution to the urgent need to innovate agricultural methods to provide fresh food in the cities.

Another fascinating agricultural technology is modern greenhouse farming, which started to gain traction after the famine caused by the German occupation last century. For more than a century, the Netherlands has been the horticulture leader in the world. Plants are grown in an enclosing greenhouse, where geothermal energy is used to heat up the environment, in which a hydroponic system can be formed to cut out water usage and carbon emissions. The Duijvestijn Tomatoes, located in the southern region of Westland, perfectly demonstrates the idea of innovative, climate-resilient agriculture. Cultivated in tiny bags of mineral wool, a fibrous material that is also used for insulation and soundproofing, without a single drop of pesticide, is the key to their success.

Today, the tiny country as climate vulnerable as the Netherland has become the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world. Achieving such a miracle in agriculture, the country brings hope for salvation to the challenge of world hunger and climate disasters. 

You might also like: 7 Green Tech Examples Helping Mitigate Climate Change

The Dutch Floating Homes

The demand for floating housings is surging in the land-scarce but densely populated Netherlands, as the worsening sea levels rise and violent storms push the waters to swell. The development of floating homes in flood precaution has gained interest from not only private investors, but also governmental sectors. The Dutch floating communities firstly emerged as early as the 17th century. After centuries of innovations, these architectural patterns are inspiring other low-lying nations to cope with climate change. 

Although the idea of a floating house sounds like nothing but wild imagination in the first place, modern innovations and practices have proven incredible feasibility and inestimable potential. Floating houses actually share many structural similarities with houses constructed on land, but instead of a basement, they are usually equipped with a concrete hull that serves as a counterweight and keeps them stably balanced in the water.

Schoonschip is an area in Amsterdam designed by a group of enthusiast architects in seek of a sustainable, close-knit community on the water responsive to climate change. The community consists of 46 dwellings across 30 water plots, which are closely linked by a jetty and feature decentralised and sustainable energy, natural resources, and waste management systems. This circular design encourages residents to trade energy among themselves through the use of a grid of smart solar panels, using water treatment methods to recover energy and nutrients from wastewater as well as subsurface heat exchangers for heating and cooling.

Over the past decades, floating homes have gained momentum in the Netherlands. Delta cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam are now hoping to expand the idea because it makes good use of the available space for homes, and more importantly, this is where sustainability is heading into the future. 

You might also like: Could ‘Sustainable Floating Cities’ Combat Sea-Level Rise?

About the Author

Liao Er Dong

Liao Er Dong is currently an undergraduate student majoring in Environmental Studies in Hong Kong, minoring in Urban Sustainability. Her research interests centred around geography, spatial science, and climate change. She hopes to devote herself to environmental journalism after pursuing a master's degree in the future

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