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High water in the lowlands and safety measures


A significant part of the Netherlands would normally be underwater without the extensive dike network that has been built and other tools they use to control the water and protect the people from it. Roughly 60% of the Netherlands behind the dikes is below sea level. Fortunately, over the years the Dutch citizens have implemented safety measures on how to handle the water. However, in 1953, there was ‘the Great Flood’ in the southwest of the Netherlands caused by a heavy storm coming from the UK. The dikes broke in the provinces of Zeeland, Zuid-Holland, and Noord-Brabant. The flood disaster resulted in 1,836 fatalities, the evacuation of roughly 72,000 residents, the deaths of more than 200,000 animals, and the destruction of 150,000 hectares of land. The damages were estimated to be 5.4 billion euros.

After the Great Flood, the dikes were rebuilt. The project Delta Works is the largest flood protection system in the whole world. Its construction began in the 1950s and commenced in 1997. In total, it cost around 4.5 billion euros. The Delta Works project consists of 13 dams that include sluices, barriers, dykes, and locks. Under normal weather conditions, the dike remains open. However, under adverse weather conditions, the 9-kilometer-long dike can close down the entire Ooster Schelde in 80 minutes. With the construction of the Delta Works, the chances of another flood have been reduced to 1 in 4000 years.

In 1959, the Netherlands started a land reclamation project in the Ijsselmeer. The majority of the territory that was drained is now known as Flevoland. The Afsluitdijk was built to separate the Waddenzee and the Ijsselmeer. In the 1970s, the cities of Noord-Holland were overcrowded. This led to the government’s decision to build cities on the newly reclaimed land, for instance, Lelystad, Almere, Zeewolde, and Emmeloord. One of the fastest-growing cities is Almere, with its population counting 220,000 citizens today.

In 2005, the Netherlands started the Maas project. The Maas is a river that starts in France and goes through Belgium towards the Netherlands, and the Maas ends at Rotterdam where it goes into the sea. The Maas project's goal was to widen the river so it could hold more water. The project was finished in 2017, and the risk of flooding in the Maas was reduced by 5 times. Still, in 2021, there was a flood disaster in Maastricht. Thousands of residents had to evacuate, many buildings were damaged, and one bridge was destroyed because a houseboat hit it. The flood was in the middle of the summer. Because of the rocky ground in the Ardennes, it cannot absorb a large amount of water. Heavy rainfall in Belgium and Germany filled the Maas, which resulted in the Maastricht flood. The water was 5 meters above NAP (Normaal Amsterdams Peil) (Measurement for water level compared to the sea level) which broke all records. Especially during the summer months, this is very unique.

The Netherlands has implemented several safety measures to protect its citizens from rising sea levels and floods. Firstly, dikes and dunes are used along the coastlines and rivers. Dikes are built to prevent sea and river water from flooding low-lying areas. Dunes act as a natural barrier that absorbs and dissipates the energy of storm surges. For instance, there are the Polders and the Delta works. The Polders are drained to create agricultural land. The program “Room for the River” was used to create extra space for the rivers during periods of heavy rainfall. This is achieved by creating bypass channels, lowering floodplains, and removing obstacles that might impede the water. Instead of making the dikes higher, the Room for the River program chose to move the dikes farther inland to leave more space for the rivers, which reduces the pressure on the dikes and minimizes the risk of breaches. The Netherlands has a sophisticated system for monitoring the water levels, weather conditions, and potential flood risks. Early warnings help alert authorities and civilians of potential flooding and give more time for evacuations. The Netherlands also invests in research and infrastructure to adapt to the rising sea level.

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