A Global Model for Sustainable Flood Protection

The Dutch have adopted nature-based solutions to help protect against increased risks of flooding linked to climate change.  Nature and water go hand in hand is the thinking behind the Dutch Room for the River  programme. This back-to-basics approach now serves as a global model in terms of water management and protection against increased risks of flooding linked to climate change.


More than half of the Netherlands lies below sea level, making the country extremely vulnerable to flooding from sea and inland rivers. The Dutch have for centuries battled to hold back water by building dikes, levees and sea walls. Extreme inland flooding in 1993 and 1995 led to a new, more sustainable approach, embracing nature-based solutions to help protect against flooding.


The Room for the River programme complements existing defences to reduce the risk of future flooding disasters. Billions of euros were invested in 30 specific projects, which include restoring natural floodplains, wetlands, dike renewal and de-poldering. All are meant to bolster existing defences and improve the capacity and flow of the biggest cross-country delta rivers to deal with fast-rising waters.


One of the key successes of the project was to make sure that the participation of municipalities and local inhabitants was taken seriously. The central government, together with Rijkswaterstaat, the owner of the main river and highways network in the Netherlands, gave local communities the option to come up with alternative plans if they met the Room for the River goals to reduce water levels. The aim of this approach was to gain local buy-in and support for the Room for the River programme.


While 95 % of the budget was focused on water safety, there was a small amount that helped to improve the quality of life for locals most affected by the projects. This included new houses for those people that owned houses on floodplains, new harbours for local communities and new river-front development.


External Sources

The European Environment Agency’s (EEA) Signals 2018 – Water is Life: The Dutch Make Room for Water (Interview)