Residents of Valkenburg continued to clean their flooded houses on Friday after bad weather hit the south of the Netherlands, where, however, the experience and investment in water management paid off.
The torrents that have hit Europe in recent days have caused great damage in the Netherlands, but so far they have not taken lives.
Across the borders, in Germany and Belgium, at least 120 people lost their lives.
Torrents of water poured into the streets, vehicles were washed and thousands of people evacuated, but the material damage remained secondary compared to the tragic death toll in neighboring countries.
Maintaining embankments and investments in recent decades to protect the population from rising sea levels in the Netherlands, with about a third of the territory below sea level, have helped reduce damage, Dutch observers say.
In addition, the Dutch had more time to prepare for rising waters, as opposed to West Germany, the region most affected by the emergency floods.
– “Situation under control” –
“Despite records broken by a huge amount of water, the situation is under control,” along Meuse, said Eric van Beerendonk, a spokesman for the Rijkswaterstat, the Dutch National Water Management Institute, on Friday afternoon.
“This is partly due to our water management programs,” adds AFP.
After the great floods of the 1990s, and especially in 1995, when 250,000 people and a million animals had to be evacuated, the Dutch reshaped the river banks with their experience.
More than 2 billion euros have been invested in bank expansion, allowing water to spill out during floods. The works were completed in 2019.
“Instead of building more embankments, we try to give the rivers more space,” explains the Rijkswaterstaat.
A similar project was launched in 2005 to give more space to the Meuse, and embankments along its banks have been strengthened.
– “Accustomed” –
Since the EU directive to that end in 2007, many countries have embarked on improved flood risk management, but “the Dutch may have had an advantage,” notes Marleen van Rijswick, a professor of European and national water law at Utrecht University.
“The Netherlands is ‘constantly investing’ in projects and ‘continuously paying’ attention to flood prevention and the effects of climate change,” she told AFP.
But sometimes nothing seems to be able to stop the force of nature: in the otherwise picturesque city of Valkenburg, residents pumped water from houses and basements on Friday, while the army built a temporary bridge to replace the old, washed-out one.
50 km north, in Roermond, caravans floated around a completely submerged camp.
The Dutch are “more accustomed” to scenes like this than their neighbors, says Stan van der Leeuw, a 58-year-old resident.
“But we also had more time to prepare,” he added for AFP.
“In Germany and Belgium it happened so suddenly that they just didn’t get to do anything.”