Public Radio International (PRI)
By Adam Wernick
Only 50 percent of the Netherlands is more than a few feet above sea level, so over the centuries the Dutch have become expert at water management. But even they were caught short by crippling floods in the 1990s and they quickly implemented vast flood prevention projects. As the country adapts to the reality of a warming planet, they are passing on their knowledge and expertise to other vulnerable nations.
“At the moment, we are in a transition. We had a strong belief that we could predict and control nature, and we're moving now into a period where we acknowledge that we cannot control nature,” says Chris Zevenbergen, a professor of flood resilience of urban systems at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands. “We have to deal with uncertainties in terms of climate change and socioeconomic development.”
Ten years ago, the Netherlands developed the concept of “room for the rivers,” which Zevenbergen calls a “paradigm shift.” “The room for the rivers concept is a turning point in our approach,” he explains. “The old paradigm is confining rivers and building and strengthening the dikes along the rivers, but we decided to explore a new approach, in which we give more space to the water. We allow the river to expand when large volumes of water are entering our country. It's not fighting against water; it is living with water.”
“In the Netherlands, we are not responding to flood disaster, we are anticipating a flood disaster,” Zevenbergen says. “That means we have time to see what is the best strategy for our country. That is a process where we are involving all the different stakeholders. It’s a very time-consuming process, but I think we are there now. We are about to implement our new strategy, but it took 10 years to accomplish that.”