Good plans have their roots in the past and are pointing at the future

national March 15, 2012 00:00

4,835 Viewed

A LETTER from Joop Atsma, the minister in charge of flood protection and water managementof The Kingdom of The Netherlands, on the occasion of his visit to Thailand this week.

As both Thailand and The Netherlands know from experience, living in flood prone areas is living with risks. On my first visit to Thailand in my role as Minister in charge of flood protection and water management, I will be looking at where Thailand and The Netherlands can exchange best practices on flood protection, mitigation and forecasting. 

Because of the vulnerability of The Netherlands - 40 % of our surface lies beneath selevel (hence the name ‘Nether Lands’ = low lying land),it has developed and applied extensive expertise in integrated watermanagement incorporating advanced expertise on water, soil and ground-water issues. Just driven by bare needs and the pro-active approach it has taken already for centuries.
Our expertise is not restricted to The Netherlands. It has successfully been applied in, for instance, USA, Australia, UK, Brazil, South Korea, Mekong Delta, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Jakarta. 
Today I can say The Netherlands is a safe place to live and to work, which is vital for our economy and the wellbeing of the people. We are protected by natural dunes and engineered levees and other barriers. 
Behind those barriers you find 10 million people and 2000 billion EUR(80 trillion THB) invested capital. Just like in Thailand, the thoroughly designed and maintained 3500 km of Dutch flood defenses, hundreds of locks, sluices and pumping stations are of the utmost importance to the survival of our country and its economy.
In the Netherlands the government has given itself a legal obligation to protect against the floods (Water Act). Our history has taught us that a dedicated governance structure and strong, non-politicized agencies are needed to protect our country against floods. On the central level these agencies are the ministries and on the regional level dedicated water boards, municipalities (sewerage) and provinces (spatial planning). The Flood Protection Act dictates the responsibilities of the parties involved, a 5 year safety assessment of all primary flood defenses and safety standards per area enclosed by flood barriers, the so-called “dike ring” areas. We live in a well-protected country but as one can imagine the work is never completed. There will always be work to do in the areas of maintenance of flood defenses, emergency management, evacuation plans, sustainable flood proof spatial planning and building, prevention of flooding or at least its reduction of probability of flooding and its consequences. The development of an integrated national action plan involving all stakeholders, looking at the future, and making use of best practices, knowledge and tools has in our own experience and in the cases where we have assisted other countries proved to be a necessary first step.
The Netherlands, just like Thailand, learned its lessons the hard way. For a very long time large plans were implemented only in response to a disaster. In 1993 and 1995 The Netherlands was confronted with high water levels in our river systems due to wrong spatial planning. This time, land use planning proved to be of the greatest importance. Creating “Room for the Rivers” was the solution. Many measures were implemented to remove obstacles we previously erected ourselves. It was thus realized that building dikes is not always thebest solution. Furthermore, a dike is as strong as it weakest part. Higher dikes may even give a false sense of security. 
We also learn from experiences elsewhere. In 2005, the Katrina disaster in New Orleans woke us up once again to the need and value of a pro-active approach to flood management. The government then started a new Delta Program, as of now unique in the world and with a horizon up to the year 2100, to develop a new integrated national action plan with robust and flexible strategies for adaptive delta management. The Delta Program leads to measures that can cope with different possible impacts of climate change and socio-economic and spatial development. 
We are always on the lookout for innovative solutions and we are eager to learn and to share. Nowadays, we build with nature, rather than against nature. We develop and use new technologies such as a natural development of coastal defenses, sensors integrated in dike body, integration of information systems in flood war rooms, keep fresh and salt water separated using bubble-screens, etc. We also use flood early warning and advanced flood modeling like a tool. Moreover, I would like to emphasize that The Netherlands is willing to cooperate, to build on what exists and complement ongoing efforts of others (such as those of, for example, Japan). 
Our response to our past disasters and our proactive approach to flood management made us stronger and more resilient and has provided security to our economic development and population.
Thailand has long been a key partner of The Netherlands and we want to build on these mutual ties and respective strengths. Closer cooperation on water management could be one way to further enhance this relationship and that’s what I want to convey during this visit to government, industries and Thai society. 

Most view