Visiting Netherlands, the country of water

Visiting Netherlands, the country of water

Wilco Van Herpen
Visiting Netherlands, the country of water

During the last decennia, parts of Holland have been flooded many times. A way to control the level of the big rivers in Holland is to change the polders into wetlands again. Photo by Wilco Van Herpen

To celebrate Christmas and New Year’s I went to visit my sister and her family in the Netherlands. They live in a small village in the polder, 30 km away from Rotterdam. This is Holland at its best: flat, green and with a lot of water. Christmas is, as always, a very nice and warm tradition, even in a country as cold as the Netherlands.

When I first arrived in Holland it was not cold. On the contrary, most of the time I walked around in nothing more than jeans and a t-shirt. Then a couple of days after the turn of the year the weather changed and it became typically Dutch. We had our first winter storm and rain – lots of rain.

Holland is well known for its water management and that is, of course, not strange. For centuries we have had a love-hate relationship with water. There is a very popular saying that explains it all: “God created the world, except for the Netherlands, which was created by the Dutch themselves.” After living in Turkey for 13 years, I feel very much at home in Turkey.

‘I am proud to be Dutch’
I am happy and proud to live here. One day someone asked me if I could say one thing that makes me proud to be Dutch. I could not directly give an answer at that moment, but I found my answer when I was in the Netherlands this time. Yes, of course I am proud to be Dutch, and I will tell you why.

It was the year 1421 when the Sint Elisabeth flood took place. It changed the map of Holland. A big part of the country was flooded during this time, creating an area that nowadays is called “the Biesbosch.” In 1953 there was another water disaster, and it was then we decided we had to do something about the danger of being flooded. Over centuries we learned how to utilize this new region and, because of how we used this area, the big lake slowly changed into a huge body of water with thousands of little islands, creeks and waterways.

Not long after, big parts of the same area were turned into very fertile agricultural terrain and for years farmers have been using this land. During the last decennia we have been confronted with a problem in the form of global warming and the changing climate. The sea level is rising, and big rivers are spilling out of their beds. During the last decennia, parts of Holland have been flooded many times. A way to control the level of the big rivers in Holland is to change the polders into wetlands again.

The Biesbosch is an area where they initiated such a project. In recent years Holland has been threatened by extremely high water levels on a couple of occasions. Over time, we have changed too much of the natural waterways and the result is some of the Dutch cities beside the big rivers were flooded by water. In order to solve this problem, the Dutch government bought all the land of the farmers in the Biesbosch and some other parts of the country.

So exactly what is going to happen? During times of storms and extremely high water levels the area will be flooded. There have been breaches in the now existing dikes. The water flows via these breaches into the lower lands. This will take the pressure away from the swollen rivers that might flood cities and villages situated next to the river.

Once the water level drops again the water will slowly disappear from this area. A calculation has been developed according to the scenario whereby a big flood takes place every 1,000 years, as well as a scenario for such a disaster happening every 100 years and then every 10 years. For tackling such problems, Holland invests 100 billon euros every year.

‘No high or tide anymore’
But there is more. Because of the Deltaworks there is no high or low tide anymore. Before 1953 this area would know the phenomena of ebb and flow but, after construction of Deltaworks was finished, this stopped. It changed the natural habitat, the idea being to create an area where nature would recover again and get back to its original situation, with new fish, birds and plant species. So we will profit from this initiative in many ways. Nature lovers will be able to bird spot, people can do different kinds of water sports and ramblers can take some nice hikes.

Why do I write all these things? Because I have the feeling that, in Turkey, not enough is being done in order to preserve nature or to adapt to the change of climate. Besides, we have the problem of being a country faced by earthquakes every year. I have traveled a lot in Turkey and have seen ancient cities devastated by earthquakes. But, at the same time, there are still a lot of remains; think about Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque. How many earthquakes have those buildings survived? So why can we not create buildings that can survive earthquakes with all the modern technology we have? Do we realize well enough what we are doing to nature and also to ourselves when we complete yet another dam project?

Of course there are a couple of good initiatives, but I think generally the government could be more helpful in finding alternatives to benefit everybody. Every one has to be prepared to make some concessions, but we should not forget one thing: By conserving nature (and also ancient sites) it is not just the people of Turkey who benefit – it is also the economy and, more importantly, nature itself. It is a win-win situation and is more important than any one might think.