June 21, 2021

Netherlands recalls its worst flood threatened by climate change

The Dutch commemorate this Saturday the anniversary of their worst flood among alerts that the rise in sea level, caused by climate change, threatens to repeat that tragedy of 1953, in which the breakdown of the levees allowed the water to destroy land , houses, residents and cattle.

“The survival of the Netherlands is at stake. Our children may have to say goodbye to cities such as The Hague, Delft, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Leiden and Haarlem. Almost seventy years ago things went wrong,” said Dutch historian Rutger Bregman in an open letter on behalf of several scientists.

Dutch geographer Kim Cohen, from the University of Utrecht, underlines that, with current knowledge, “an increase of two meters” can be handled at sea level in the Netherlands: “But if that goes up to three, four or five meters, I doubt it. We have to take draconian measures and we will start giving up some cities. “

Scientists and this historian demand “solar panels, wind turbines and high-speed trains” to reduce global warming because there will be no “dams, dikes, bridges and islands” that protect the land that Holland once stole from the sea, and alert that the worst tragedy caused by the sea in this country will be relived again.

It was the morning of February 1, 1953: the dikes located in the delta of the southwest region of the country, which seemed to resist wind and tide, did not withstand the rise in sea level, caused by the strong storm, and opened by everywhere to the North Sea, allowing water to flood more than 200,000 hectares of land.

The material damage in the disaster area was enormous, entire populations were completely destroyed, 1,836 Dutch were perished among the destruction, razed by the icy water, another 100,000 people lost their homes and tens of thousands of head of cattle drowned in the floods.

The North Sea ate much of South Holland, Zeeland and North Brabant, but the quality of the levees, the height within the polders, the direction of the water flows and the state, sometimes deplorable, of the Housing marked the difference between a fatal flood in one region and a reversible disaster in another.

The following night, a combination of strong wind and high tide caused the death of many of the survivors of the previous day and the houses that had resisted the first flood collapsed by the strong current, leaving those who had taken refuge in the roofs.

The disaster left deep traces in the Dutch landscape and in society. An attempt was made to repair the destruction, but these floods, which are commemorated each year in the Netherlands, began a debate on how to prevent a disaster of this magnitude in the future.

The answer then was the Delta Plan, a world-famous project today as an icon of hydraulic engineering and a symbol of the war against water, a struggle that has always been linked to the identity of the Dutch.

But no one had a surprise: climate change, global warming and the consequent rise in sea level, which today raise new questions about threats to Dutch security, can not be avoided with engineering but with a reduction in emissions from Greenhouse gases and more sustainable projects.

“It will take us a lot of time, money and energy, but it has always been that way. We have been fighting water for thousands of years. Because our future is in our own hands,” Bregman said in that letter that alarmed the Dutch.

Delta Commissioner Peter Glas prefers to express himself more cautiously: “It is not that he tells people ‘go to sleep peacefully’, but at the same time, I think we have a good starting point.”

The sea level off the Dutch coast could be up to two meters higher in 2100 if the land warms up to two degrees, but if that warming is double, then the North Sea could be up to three meters higher. According to the UN, small islands and low cities are at greater risk of flooding from 2050.

Imane Rachidi


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