Coastal flooding: Netherlands (Holland)

The Netherlands is a country in northern Europe. Like many of the countries around it, it is an MEDC. Its human development is 9th highest in the world (out of the 177 countries for which data was collected for) and its GNP per capita is $37,580 which is higher than the UK and only $6,000 behind the USA. Due to various factors, the country is at risk from coastal flooding. In 1953, after a storm surge in the North Sea, 2,000 people died from flooding. To prevent a disaster from happening like this again the Dutch government have spent billions on various land reclamation schemes.

Physical characteristics of the Netherlands which make it susceptible to flooding:

* One quarter of the Netherlands lies beneath sea level- as it is such a low-lying country (it is famous for its flat land to cycle on) it is susceptible to flooding as there is no steep gradient to slow the velocity of the water, meaning it flood unopposed. The rivers often change course, making it unpredictable of when they will flood.

* The Netherlands is situated right next to the coast (it is not landlocked) and is in close proximity to many bodies of water. It actually lies at the mouth of the Rhine, Maas and Schelde rivers which in effect makes Holland a delta country. This makes Holland susceptible to flooding because of the build-up of any sediment at the delta. With Holland being a delta location, that also increases the risk of storm surges.

* Holland is a very densely populated country and there is a strain on resources so a lot of people have to live on marginal land (i.e. hilly places/flood plains) which may be affected more by the rivers flooding.

* Parts of Holland are essentially coastal islands (they are ‘polders’- areas of reclaimed land) on the sea which are only protected by coastal dunes. They are extremely vulnerable to flooding as many areas are only just above sea level.

Human characteristics of Holland which increase likelihood of flooding:

* The Netherlands are an extremely densely populated country- it has a population density of nearly 500 people per square km. This is particularly a problem in the area of Randstad (a conurbation which covers cities such as Utrecht) which has a population density of 1,523 people per square km. The west of Holland near the North Sea (and therefore in area most vulnerable to flooding) is very densely populated with megacities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. If a flood did happen, there would be more people for it to affect and would therefore make evacuation harder possibly worsening the affects of the flood.

* Population pressure is enormous, and new development is constantly happening on the edge of urban areas meaning house prices are driven up. This means the cost of repairing them is higher if it floods.

* A lot of the land area in Holland is rural and used for agriculture. These natural areas are highly protected and if flooding occurred this would halt food production and damage many people’s livelihoods.

Land reclamation

Land reclamation has been happening in Holland ever since the 19th century where settlements were built on artificial mounds or ‘turps’. However it has become widespread in Holland in the 20th century and particularly since the aforementioned

flood of 1953. Land reclamation is used to control water and also provide space for Holland’s expansive population. Modern technology has allowed the Dutch to drain large areas of wetland and reclaim islands of land otherwise known as polders. At the same time, dykes were built to keep the water out, rivers were embanked and the coastline as shortened. Land reclamation has added 7% to Holland’s land area which has provided much needed space for housing, industry and farming. Although it is expensive and complex to carry out land reclamation it is still affordable to the Dutch government and is a very useful flood prevention scheme.

Land reclamation schemes

* The delta project- This scheme protects the south west of the Netherlands otherwise known as Zeeland. It was started after the 1953 floods and storm surges. Engineering work to seal off the delta took 30 years and cost $5 billion. In order to build dams in the river mouth to regulate water control compartment dams (the Zandkreek, the Krammer and the Volkerak) were built to divide the water into sections. Over time various dams and ‘sluice gates’ were built to aid flood control. The delta project reduced the length of the coastline form 800 km to 80 km and greatly improved communications between the urban centre Rotterdam and the southwest region of the Netherlands. Water supply became better as freshwater was allowed to be transported into rivers and this greatly improved agriculture. The water balance of rivers could be adjusted easier to become more saline or freshwater depending on the purpose it had. Although nature reserves were destroyed in the eastern Schelde new ones were built and a sluice gate rather than a solid dam was built in the Schelde to let saline water in to marshy and mudflat areas. The delta project also created opportunities for leisure and recreation and improved mobility.

* The Zuider Zee project- This project dates as far back as 1667. However it was only in the 20th century that technology made it feasible. The enclosing dam (Afsluitdijk) was completed in 1932. The wieringmeer was drained in 1930, the North east polder in 1942, east Flevoland in 1957 and South felvoland in1967. the project added 6% to the Netherlands land area shortened the coastline and reduced the risk of flooding from the sea. It also had benefit for agriculture too as over 90% of land on the oldest polders is used for intensive farming of crops and cereals. This boosts Holland’s economy. The newer polders are used for

housing (settlements Almere (181,000 people) and Leylstad (80,000 people) originated here) and commerce/industry. The Zuider Zee project has also provided opportunities for recreation (i.e. fishing, sailing and swimming) and improved communications between the province of Randstad and Amsterdam.

* Massvlakte 2- This new land reclamation scheme started in the mouth of the new waterway which is near Rotterdam. The scheme will create 20 square km of land and also improved ship communications. The first ships will begin using the facilities in 2013, although the whole scheme is not due to be completed until 2033. Massvlakte 2(which followed on from Massvlakte 1, another land reclamation project) was needed because of the rapid expansion of Rotterdam. The 20 square km of land that this project reclaims will be become dryland composed partly of sand dredged from offshore. This may destroy some marine ecosystems with many molluscs, fish and birds using the area as a habitat. Further inshore, engineering operations will release alluvium 9sand and silt) into the coastal waters making it cloudier. This could affect food chains in the water. Disrupting the movement of sand may case damage to sand dunes and flora in the Voorne which is just south of the development. However this scheme is sustainable because new sand dunes will be created as well as a 250 square km seabed protection area to compensate for loss of the seafloor. The development will also be an economic asset as it will offer recreational opportunities like leisure parks, cycling and beaches.