Pumping or drowning
Global warming poses different threats to different areas in Europe. Portugal and Spain are faced with drought and heat, the Alps with melting glaciers and all of Europe with more extreme weather. The Netherlands is touched in a particular way. Half the country is situated below sea level, and this is coincidentally the part of the country where 75% of the population resides. How do the Dutch feel about the threat of a rising sea level? I`m doing a round up in Almere, one of the cities constructed from scratch in the 1960s. Almere is located in the reclaimed province of Flevoland, where nothing natural dates back more than 50 years.
The Dutch do not seem particularly concerned about their situation. Most of them seem to have other things on their mind and put trust in the authorized institutions to do whatever is needed to keep the country dry. `If it comes, it comes`, says Thea (22), but she `kind of` believes the sophisticated protection system will keep her feet dry for the next years to come. Fieke (28) does see a problem. Not so much for her generation, but the generations after her. They will maybe have to move elsewhere, to the East of the country or even further. Bas (28) says worrying about The Netherlands to flood is like worrying about a fatal disease that you may or may not get in 10 years time. He adds that the rising interest rate for mortgages causes him more concern than the rising sea level.
..only remembers seeing floods on TV, not in reality
Marinke (22, photo) agrees that worrying or not worrying about the situation makes no change. `It won`t change a thing`, she says. Her only memory of serious floods are TV images of the 1953 flood in the Zeeland province. `But that`s when they started constructing a whole new set of dikes, which, I guess, limited the risks quite a bit. We do get `weather alarms` every now and then, and storms, but I never felt unsafe. Usually, it doesn`t end up as bad as the forecasters like to make us think.` Marinke believes that the measurements taken to prevent the country from flooding are sufficient, until the contrary has been proved.
Jeffrey (22) says that `living low` doesn`t make any difference to him. `There are barely any points of reference that remind me of that vulnerable position`, he says. As long as people can`t see the sea, they are not prepared to fear it. Are there any other issues in The Netherlands that are of more concern? `Terrorism`, says Jeffrey, even though a terrorist attach will probably claim much fewer victims that a flood that puts half the country under water.
Rising sea level
Without a constant effort of pumping water out of the polders, half the country would be covered with water in a matter of days. No need to wait for the North Sea claim it. Rain or rivers would take little time to take possession of the country, if they escaped the constant control of the people and systems protecting the country. While the sea can be kept out by fortifying dikes, the water imported by rivers poses much more of a problem. Floods in Limburg in 1995 - just a river and no see involved ? show that vulnerability is in no way limited to the coast line.
While authorities are making serious plans to create a tulip-shaped island in the North Sea, they are forced to `surrender` polders to the rivers in the inland. These pieces of land are used as buffer zones. In case of high water levels in the rivers, the buffer zones are supposed to absorb the excess water, and to keep more densely populated areas from flooding.
Confidence and consciousness
David (21) puts trust in the abilities of Dutch water engineers. `Even our Crown Prince is concerned with the matter. If Dutch companies can build palm-tree buildings in Dubai and help reconstructing New Orleans after the Katrina floods, I am also quite confident that they will be able to keep The Netherlands dry.
The film `An inconvenient truth` was a big success in The Netherlands. Most people see conscious living as one of the very few and tiny things they can do to possibly reduce the impact of global warming. And to keep their country safe. Samantha (19) says separating garbage and taking a bike or public transportation will help put less pressure on the environment, which in turn should reduce the effects of global warming and the risk of the country flooding. `But the Netherlands is a very small country, and we can`t do it on our own. Our rivers import filthy water from Germany and Belgium, and most countries in the world seem hardly bothered about reducing CO2-emission.`
And so the only alternative people have in mind for the moment things go wrong is to move to a different country. Martijn (34) can`t wait to see it happen: `We have welcomed so many refugees here, I wonder what it will be like to be received by another country. What would that feel like..?`
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