A Never Ending Battle With The Sea: Welcome To The Netherlands

Climate Change: All Countries Not Created Equal.

Consider the Netherlands.

The nomenclature Netherlands is Dutch for “low countries” or “lowlands” – which is accurate because 1/8 of the country actually exists below sea level.  And half of the country lies less than 1 meter above the sea. We have previously discussed the potentially catastrophic sea level rise induced by climate change. You do the math. The country is literally sinking.

And for those of you wracking your brains as to where exactly the Netherlands is, here you go:

Netherlands

The Netherlands is actually one of the most densely populated countries on the planet. Don’t be fooled – there’s actually not that many people (about 16.8 million).  It’s just extremely small (41.5 sq km). You can actually travel through the whole country in about two hours. Given its low position relative to the sea, the country has historically relied on an extensive network of dikes, dams, and dunes to combat floods.

Rewind 61 years.

flood

It’s January 31st, 1953. A severe windstorm is circling the high spring tide of the North Sea. In the south-western Netherlands, wind speeds of force 9 are blowing – this will last for 20 consecutive hours.

Around 3:00 AM the dikes that had once protected the Netherlands are destroyed. The sheer power of the water is tremendous. That night, the sleeping Dutch are trapped in their houses, doing whatever they can to save themselves. Thousands of houses collapse. Telephone and radio communications shut down. 407,550 acres of land are engulfed by the sea in just one night.

The next morning is absolutely devastating. The Dutch are scattered in boats throughout the sea, frantically searching for victims. And that afternoon, February 1st, a second flood hits, costing even more lives.

The consequences are severe.

1,836 people died as a direct consequence of this flood. An additional 40 died in the flood’s aftermath. 3,000 houses and 300 farms were destroyed, another 40,000 houses and 3,000 farms damaged. 1,770 people suffered casualties. The emotional damages endured for months.

The flood of 1953 was the largest flood to hit the Netherlands, but the country has been fighting water for over 1,000 years, when the first dikes were built.

Today, the battle becomes intensified.

Here’s what’s going on.  (If this sounds like a review of 7th grade science class, that’s because it is). As the temperature rises, the oceans evaporate more moisture into the air.  Warmer air holds more water vapor.  What does this mean? Downpours are heavier.  Simultaneously, longer intervals in-between downpours cause catastrophic droughts.  The same heat that evaporates water from the ocean pulls moisture from the soil. The real kicker? Floods and droughts have catastrophic consequences.

The effects could be disastrous. Today, the Netherlands’ peat-rich agriculture soil is at extreme risk.  So is the livelihood of the Dutch.

And, by the way, if the Netherlands goes down, the rest of the world suffers. The country, located in the center of Europe with access to numerous bodies of water, is well suited as a shipping hub for the EU economy. And if you like Gouda and Edam cheese, you should be very worried. The Netherlands is a key player in cheese production. They also supply 2/3 of the world’s tulips, bulbs, and cut flowers.

The sea seems to be winning this long-lived battle.

If you are reading this from the Netherlands – you might want to consider buying a second home.

5 thoughts on “A Never Ending Battle With The Sea: Welcome To The Netherlands

  1. Great post! Very accurate. At this pace it wont be long until the dikes no longer protect the Dutch from the rising sea levels and they will literally be forced to migrate out of their own country!

    Like

  2. Excellent post! What are the Dutch doing in terms of switching to renewables and also in energy efficiency? I know they’re piloting a solar powered bike path but that’s small potatoes at this point.

    Like

  3. There is a proposal to make Boston the “Venice of North America” saw an artist rendition of Boston underwater.

    Like

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