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Flood Environmental Issues in the Netherlands


With the current situation of constantly rising sea levels, the Netherlands is at the constant risk of floods, and those calamities were harsh incentives for the country’s development. Its history is full of floods, many of which were devastated nationally. Almost all country territory is in danger, which pushes the necessity to build a technically advanced and sustainable infrastructure and implement efficient policies to prevent it.

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General Overview

While highly developed, the Netherlands is vulnerable to sea-level changes and requires precise management to prevent catastrophic issues. Because only half of the country is noticeably above the sea level, and more than a quarter is located below it, the country’s environmental problems are especially palpable (Jonkman et al., 2018). It creates a necessity for developing sustainable technologies that have no negative impact on nature. Especially important are energy sources and agriculture: energy is fundamental for living, and the agricultural field is an essential part of the Netherlands’ industry. Green energy sources are popular in the country: wind and water turbines and solar batteries have great potential to use in the Netherlands’ conditions. There are strategies in the country to make its energy production sources 100% renewable by 2030 (Bulavskaya & Reynès, 2018). The Dutch government promotes the concept of nature-inclusive agriculture and implements those practices in the field that are not harmful to nature but, instead, take it as an integral part (Runhaar, 2017). Thus, the government understands the necessity of promoting sustainable economics in those conditions.

Policies for flood management in the country are constantly developing. Policy learning is the improving of them based on previous floods’ results, which give insights about how and when water flows may become uncontrollable. It enables calculating the risk of the calamity in each specific region and improving the policy based on those risks (van Buuren et al., 2016). In that way, environmental issues are fully recognized and considered at the national level.

Infrastructure in the Netherlands

Due to the low sea-level attitude, the country has an extensive network of dams and other facilities, protecting it from floods. Their total length exceeds 2800 kilometers, and they are common in all parts of the country (Jonkman et al., 2018). They include dams, sluices, pumping stations, navigation locks, each with a different application. Dams are the primary defense structures that prevent water from flooding the lowland territory. Sluices and navigation locks enable regulating the water level in rivers, preventing floods, and facilitating shipping navigation.

The Netherlands actively implements green energy sources by stimulating the building of wind turbines, solar batteries, and water power plants. However, most of the country’s energy sources are still from traditional sources such as gas and coal (Bulavskaya & Reynès, 2018). Implementing green energy sources would create many new workplaces, fully compensating for the lost ones at thermal power plants. It would drastically reduce pollution while increasing the economic growth rates. However, it also would make the energy more expensive, at least at the beginning of such an implementation.

Agriculture is another important field in the Netherlands’ environmental issues. Growing crops can exhaust and pollute the soil if it is wrong, leading to severe floods and destructions. The Netherlands’ government adopts the program of nature-inclusive farming, which means considering nature, such as wild ecosystems, as the element of the agricultural practice (Runhaar, 2017). Like green energy development, such agriculture helps increase economic growth while decreasing pollution and environmental harm.

Policies and Strategies for Flood Prevention

Generally, there are two strategies for flood prevention: protection-oriented and risk-oriented. The first one is based on extensive protection mechanisms against floods, such as dams. The risk-oriented strategy is associated with risk evaluation in various territories; all defense systems and policies that define how to react to deluges are based on those risk evaluations. The Netherlands uses a protection-oriented strategy; as mentioned, there is an extensive network of dams and other defense structured (van Buuren et al., 2016). However, due to its flexibility and sustainability, the risk-oriented approach is also being implemented in modern times. For example, new safety standards for flood defense structures proposed by the Dutch government are based on a failure probability in the given conditions rather than a system’s strength (Jonkman et al., 2018). It ensures that dams and other protective structures will cope with their task efficiently.

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The water load is mostly uncertain and is calculated on a probability basis. Ensuring flood resilience, which means stability against flood risks, is the modern trend in policy development in European countries, including the Netherlands (Hegger et al., 2016). The differentiation of policies makes them more flexible and adaptable to changing risks and, thus, is positive for flood prevention. However, it is difficult to reach that flexibility in the Netherlands as its protective infrastructure is very large and cannot be easily changed. It is another reason why implementing the risk-oriented approach would be beneficial for the Netherlands, as it would solve this rigidity issue.

Each flood management strategy has several elements, regardless of whether it is protection- or risk-oriented. Those are risk management, defense management, mitigation plans’ creation and implementation, flood preparation, and recovery (Hegger et al., 2016). As one can see, the risk-oriented and protection-oriented strategies, described by van Buuren et al. (2016), are those where the first and second points, respectively, are considered the most important. Mitigation plans are essential for flood protection, as they show the methods for evacuating people from the endangered area, saving their lives, health, and property. Flood preparation includes flood warning systems, evacuations based on mitigation plans, and education to teach people how to react in case of a flood to remain alive.

The Delta Programme is the river management strategy created to ensure the implementation of more robust and actual policies for flood protection. It was implemented in 2011 and aims to decrease the probability and impact of floods while increasing freshwater access for agriculture (van Buuren et al., 2016). To reach those goals, there were active researches of the country’s rivers, evaluation of risks, and planes to change the defense system, making it more flexible and less rigid. There was resistance against the program’s implementation, as it was more risk-oriented and thus unusual for the traditional proponents of dams. Nevertheless, it can solve the ongoing environmental dangers more efficiently and with much fewer expenses.


While the Netherlands is under constant pressure from nature, it also stimulates its development in various fields. Its flood prevention strategies are better developed than in other European countries and are constantly improved; without them, the state is at the risk of being washed out (Hegger et al., 2016). It leads to security which is, in fact, higher in the Netherlands than in other countries, such as France. As more than 60% of the country experiences the constant risk of flooding, Duch people are constantly prepared for the worst outcome and ready to cope with that. It results in rigid and large-scale defense structures and protection-oriented flood prevention strategy; however, it is changing gradually to a more flexible risk-oriented approach.

The country needs various solutions to ensure its safety; locally, it means implementing the best policies and infrastructure for flood protection, while globally, it is ensuring sustainable development, which does not endanger nature. There are strategies in the country, seriously considered by the government that the Netherlands should obtain more than 90% of the energy from renewable sources in 2030 (Bulavskaya & Reynès, 2018). Green agricultural practices became especially popular in the Netherlands and supported the government (Runhaar, 2017). Those advances increase the quality of life in the Netherlands and ensure that the country is either safe and comfortable for living. Water management, while centralized, is executed on a local level by organizations of people who have the direct interest to be safe (van Buuren et al., 2016). It means that the decisions which are made are transparent and democratic. One can see that the Netherlands successfully uses that situation to develop and implement the best practices for ecology preservation, technological advancement, and social improvement.


The environmental peculiarities pose a danger for the Netherland to be flooded at any moment when the sea level is rising; thus, it is the subject of great importance. The country has a long history of devastating floods and learned how to fight them. The vast protection infrastructure, such as dams and sluices, is present in the Netherlands, and it is constantly improved. While the country used to rely on strong, large, and rigid protection structures, its policies started to implement a more flexible risk-oriented approach. In addition, it develops sustainable technologies that help maintain the balance with nature, reducing the risk of calamities. Robust and agile policies and green industry are necessary for the Netherlands to keep the country in harmony with the environment.


Bulavskaya, T., & Reynès, F. (2018). Job creation and economic impact of renewable energy in the Netherlands. Renewable Energy, 119, 528–538. Web.

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Hegger, D. L. T., Driessen, P. P. J., Wiering, M., van Rijswick, H. F. M. W., Kundzewicz, Z. W., Matczak, P., Crabbé, A., Raadgever, G. T., Bakker, M. H. N., Priest, S. J., Larrue, C., & Ek, K. (2016). Toward more flood resilience: Is a diversification of flood risk management strategies the way forward? Ecology and Society, 21(4). Web.

Jonkman, S. N., Voortman, H. G., Klerk, W. J., & van Vuren, S. (2018). Developments in the management of flood defences and hydraulic infrastructure in the Netherlands. Structure and Infrastructure Engineering, 14(7), 895–910. Web.

Runhaar, H. (2017). Governing the transformation towards ‘nature-inclusive’ agriculture: Insights from the Netherlands. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 15(4), 340–349. Web.

van Buuren, A., Ellen, G. J., & Warner, J. F. (2016). Path-dependency and policy learning in the Dutch delta: Toward more resilient flood risk management in the Netherlands? Ecology and Society, 21(4). Web.

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