Dutch water governance faces challenges from demographics and climate


17/03/2014 - The Netherlands is a global pioneer in water management with a long history of containing flood risks and reclaiming land from the sea. Yet it will need to adapt its water governance policies to meet the looming challenges of shifting demographics, regional development and climate change, according to an OECD report.


Water Governance in the Netherlands - Fit for the Future?” highlights the past successes of Dutch water management, examines potential weaknesses for the future and suggests ways to put the system on a more sustainable footing. These include fostering a greater engagement of stakeholders outside the government, using economic incentives more systematically and improving transparency of information on water costs.


Climate change means that periodic water scarcity will become a new threat. The flood risks more commonly associated with the Netherlands will also worsen as changing weather patterns cause more rainfall and higher sea levels. There is a need to raise public awareness to ensure people understand the need for public investment in water security.


“Past excellence must not lead to complacency,” said OECD Deputy Secretary-General Yves Leterme, launching the report in The Hague. “Water policies must adapt to changing conditions to ensure the Netherlands can handle new risks from higher sea and river levels, growing demands on its water supply and increased pollution.”


The Netherlands is a delta area fed by four major rivers. A quarter of the country lies below sea level and more than half of it is flood-prone. Regional water authorities created back in the 13th century have consistently reclaimed submerged coastal land and used complex dyke systems to control high tides, storm surges and swollen rivers.  


The report notes that new housing being built for a growing population must be resistant to floods and able to meet fresh water demands even during periods of drought that may result from climate change.


It suggests developing fully independent accountability mechanisms and making those who generate risks, such as polluters or property developers who build on flood-prone land, bear some of the costs of water management.


For further information, journalists should contact the OECD Media Division on  (+33 1 4524 9700) or Aziza Akhmouch, head of the OECD’s Water Governance Programme. You can read more on the OECD's water programme. 


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