As a country with three major rivers flowing through it and with 523 kilometres of coastline, the Netherlands is a frontrunner in coastal management. Because our country is a low-lying delta, we have lived with water for centuries. A delta in combination with our geographic location makes it very vulnerable to inundation.
After the Netherlands was struck by severe floods in 1953, it built flood defences like the Maeslantkering. Later, rivers flooding their banks in the 1990s shifted our ideas of water management from a ‘fight against water’ towards ‘building with nature’. The Dutch water sector has come up with several ecosystem-based solutions in which water governance, stakeholder participation, flood prevention, river management and coastal protection are key. Two of these solutions are the Zandmotor for coastal protection and the iconic Room for the River project.
The Dutch waterway network is the densest in Europe. It is a complex system comprising about 6,000 kilometres of rivers and canals, many of the latter being used for drainage as well as for navigation, that serve every part of the country. These waterways are of vital importance: the Netherlands is number one in the EU in terms of inland waterway transport. Container transport to and from the Port of Rotterdam is expected to grow significantly over the next 20 years. The management and maintenance of waterways prioritise managing and preserving functionality to facilitate safe transport on water.
Ports of the future
Ongoing trends such as global trade growth, increasing vessel sizes and the need to modernise port facilities are driving investments in ports. Not keeping up will mean loss of trade and competitive position. However, port development impacts our riverine, coastal and delta ecosystems. There is a clear need for innovative solutions for port development that are in harmony with the ecosystem while being robust and adaptable in the face of change.
The Netherlands embraces its ‘ports of the future’ concept that embeds a holistic or integrated approach to optimise the economic, environmental, and social costs and benefits of ports. Since ports are not stand-alone units, the concept also includes connecting waterways, improving hinterland connections, involving the surrounding cities and strengthening adjacent coastlines.