Bring in the Dutch

Bring in the Dutch

The Netherlands is hallmarked by its many rivers stemming from the larger Rhine. All going into the sea through deltas

The Netherlands has long been known as an expert when it comes to everything water related. Having built an entire province on a lake in the 20th century, one of the most complex defence systems against the North Sea and dam connecting both sides of the country. These feats have made Dutch water expertise highly requested around the world.

Dutch expertise, still wanted against water

One of the most common ways a nation can quickly get into contact with experts is via the Dutch Risk Reduction Team (DRR-Team). A cooperative venture by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Infrastructure and Waterworks, Netherlands Enterprise Agency and many experts connected via the Netherlands Water Partnership.

Their coordinator, Michel De Zwart, explains how countries can quickly get access to this group of around 450 experts for many water related issues. “If something happens in a country such as a disaster or the need for structural changes to their climate management.” Whether it be draughts, floods or other issues rising from climate change. They can get in touch with the Dutch embassy who can easily put them into contact with the DRR-Team.

“They quickly ask themselves how they can get help when it comes to planning or development of projects.” Many countries have enough money to invest in new infrastructure, but the planning and less visible aspects can be lacking. “Once you build a dam, people can see it. But the planning underneath is a whole different world.” The experts of the DRR-Team can assist in these processes and have done 72 missions, in 44 different countries from 2014-2019, the majority deal with flood management.

One of these missions was in Brazil. In 2019 a large mining dam broke, causing toxic waste to enter adjacent areas, the contamination of ground water and even fatalities. This prompted Brazil’s National Mining Industry Agency to call in the DRR-Team. There they worked on investigating the dams and disaster and teaching stakeholders about dam design and risk management. This mission was received so well that the Brazilian National Mining Industry Agency started partnerships with Dutch organisations.

Aren’t the most virtuous

De Zwart emphasises that this doesn’t mean that Dutch expertise is the holy grail, however. “We Dutch also have some big issues regarding water management.” While the recent floods would have one think otherwise, the Netherlands is often suffering from draught. “The knowledge and experience we gain from helping other countries could also be applicable here. We are also not done ourselves” De Zwart believes that the entire world has to work together and learn from each other when it comes to climate management. “We aren’t the most virtuous, we have also had our fair share of troubles last summer.”

According to dr. Gerard van den Berg, a project manager at KWR Water Research Institute, one of the aspects of water management the Dutch do great is their organisation. Many layers of government can work together in the field of water safety and management. “A lot of countries look at the Netherlands as a country that has things in order. It’s just something we had to realize, if we didn’t do anything half the country would be underwater.”

But he is also of the opinion that it’s more than just organisation. “Many countries look with awe at the Netherlands for our large numbers of water engineers and other highly educated people in this field. Think of the TU Delft and Institute for hydraulic engineering.” The IHE in Delft is an UNESCO sponsored institute which has trained over 23,000 new water professionals from 190 countries, most of which from developing countries or countries in transition.

“There is some sort of saying, especially when it is water related, which goes: Bring in the Dutch! Because it is often joked that if you bring in Dutch experts, they’ll certainly come with a solution.” Van Den Berg thinks that the Dutch have unique knowledge when it comes to water management. “However, that brings in the risk that we could kick back and do nothing new, which we should not do. Because then we’ll be surpassed by others in no time.”

Just like the Netherlands had to deal with the rough North Sea and the fact that most of the big cities are below sea level. Many countries face their own unique issues relating to water. “They also have to get to work, so those countries will end up investing a lot more in water management and could surpass the Netherlands.”

Van den Berg does think that the Dutch are doing alright, they’re still developing new ways to manage water. “Even yesterday I received a report of some very diverse water related measures taken in Amsterdam.”

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