Dutch to take new measures against possible global warming
U.S. Water News Online
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Netherlands needs a massive new building program to strengthen the low-lying country's water defenses against the anticipated effects of global warming for the next 190 years, a key panel advised.
The plan by the Delta Commission includes more than euro100 billion (US$144 billion) in new spending through the year 2100 to take measures such as broadening coastal dunes and strengthening sea and river dikes. It is expected to be the central reference point for policymakers for decades to come.
“We're not trying to scare people because there's still time to act,” said chairman Cees Veerman, handing the report to Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende in a nationally televised news conference. Balkenende promised to immediately begin drafting its recommendations into law.
“Whatever social or economic hardship this country faces, water runs through it,” he said.
Among its key findings, the commission revised earlier estimates of how high seas may rise and said current safety norms are inadequate.
Dutch policymakers have, until now, prepared for a rise in sea level of around 30 inches (80 centimeters) by 2100, regardless of the continuing scientific debate on the causes and likely impact of global warming.
The commission said the country must plan for a rise in the North Sea by as much as 4.25 feet (1.3 meters) by 2100, and 6.5-13 feet (2-4 meters) by 2200.
Two-thirds of the Netherlands' 16 million people already live below sea level, mostly on land reclaimed from the sea over the centuries and protected by high banks of sand.
The Netherlands' political history and even its name, which means the “lowlands,” have been shaped by its location at the delta created by the Rhine and Maas rivers.
The commission was created in September 2007, after the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina spurred reflection and preparations. Those included drawing up worst-case plans for evacuations — unthinkable politically just a few years ago.
The country had already budgeted euro1 billion (US$1.4 billion) annually for urgent water defense projects over the coming 20 years with an eye to global warming. Another euro500 million (US$720 million) is spent annually to maintain existing sea and river dikes.
Veerman said that measures will cost a minimum of euro1 billion (US$1.4 billion) extra per year through 2100, with an upper range of euro180 billion (US$260 billion).
Specific recommendations include improving dikes' strength “by a factor of 10”; using offshore sand supplementation to broaden dunes that guard much of the country's central coast line; strengthening sea dikes in the far north and south; and increasing the ability to absorb water arriving from the Rhine and Meuse/Maas rivers by more than 10 percent.
“Throughout history, we have made water plans after a disaster,” Sybe Schaap, the country's chief water official, told NOS news. “What is unique about this plan is that it has been drawn up before a disaster.”
The worst flood in living memory was a 1953 disaster in which a storm surge drove water along the Dutch coast more than 13 feet (4 meters) above normal levels, breaching defenses and killing more than 1,800 people.
The first Delta Commission was created then, and eventually undertook a 40-year building project that made the water defenses among the strongest in the world.
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