As innovative solutions are embraced in the Netherlands, their impact reaches far beyond their borders, benefiting not only the Dutch but the entire global community. As the summer of 2024 unfolds, the undeniable influence of Climate Change becomes impossible to ignore. While some might have considered the tropical storms that have been battering coastlines around the world in recent years as isolated incidents, the scorching heatwave sweeping through entire territories in the Northern Hemisphere leaves no room for doubt – the repercussions of global warming are accelerating at an astonishing pace.
Amidst ongoing debates about the validity of Climate Change science, the United States and various other nations continue to navigate these discussions, while countries labeled as both developed and developing – Brazil included – establish dedicated ministries to address this pressing issue. In contrast, the Netherlands emerges as a pioneer, boldly investing in research and development solutions to confront the looming climatic challenges of the future.
Challenging the Laws of Nature
Throughout history, the Dutch have nurtured a symbiotic relationship with water, shaping their lives and perspectives. Faced with constant adversity, innovative water management technologies emerged, echoing the intrepid determination of a people inhabiting a landscape where over 20% is situated below sea level. A remarkable path unfurled, dedicated to the creation of water management technologies.
The Dutch solutions for water control often defy the laws of nature, surpassing the boundaries of urban planning and stretching the limits of imagination. This pioneering approach is deeply rooted in a historical need to overcome the challenges posed by marshy and aquatic terrain. From ambitious projects in past centuries, rooted in the creation of canals and windmills – now iconic symbols of the nation – to the sophisticated modern infrastructures that stand as embodiments of Dutch vision, creativity, and ingenuity.
One of the most remarkable feats accomplished by the Dutch in the 20th century was the shortening of their coastline by 700 km. During the 1950s, a series of audacious endeavors known as the "Delta Works" came to life in the southwestern Netherlands. Their mission? To halt the invasion of the North Sea onto Dutch soil.
Comprising six dams and four storm surge barriers, this structure stands as the grandest flood defense in the Netherlands. Endorsed by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Delta Works earned the honor of being recognized as one of the renowned Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
Continuing the Legacy
A remarkable extension of the Delta Works project is the Maeslantkering – a recently constructed storm surge barrier that now shields the city of Rotterdam. Completed in 1997, the Maeslantkering features two massive gates, each weighing 6,800 tons. These gates autonomously close under the command of a computer system meticulously monitoring tidal rhythms. Notably, these computers remain disconnected from the internet, defying cyber attacks. With an investment of 450 million euros, the Maeslantkering embraces the mission of safeguarding the 994,000 inhabitants of Rotterdam, shielding them from the might of the waters.
The Netherlands continues to reshape its urban landscapes with projects designed to mitigate the impacts of the changing climate. An example widely celebrated is the concept of "Watersquares" – public spaces that transform into reservoirs during heavy rains, preventing nearby streets from flooding. During dry seasons, these spaces transform into meeting points for community gatherings, flowing like the tides.
Since 2013, the residents of Rotterdam have been able to enjoy the first Watersquare, situated in Benthemplein. This square has the capacity to hold approximately 1.7 million liters of water, far surpassing even the most dire scenarios of this new era.
Another instance of Dutch urban adaptation to the changing climate is the proliferation of green roofs on houses, buildings, and even bus stations, alongside the creation of "ecoducts" – miles-long green embankments surrounding the country's major highways. Beyond their role in water management, these green roofs absorb summer heat during scorching days, keeping structures cooler than they would otherwise be.
The solutions adopted in the Netherlands reverberate globally. As the Dutch persist in investing in research and development, their water management solutions continue to demonstrate their effectiveness, inspiring other nations to undertake similar projects, often through fruitful collaborations.
From water management projects in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to the development of drainage systems in cities like Singapore, Dutch engineers have played a vital role in creating sustainable solutions to water-related challenges. This expertise has also been applied in projects such as Hong Kong International Airport, where Dutch engineers helped create an artificial island for the airport's expansion, and the iconic Palm Jumeirah in Dubai.
Amid concerns about climate change, the Dutch not only face their own challenges head-on but also generously share their knowledge to assist other countries in tackling similar issues. Although the challenge is monumental, the Dutch remind us that global cooperation and innovative solutions can guide us in finding ways to protect our planet.