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Rebuilding Kerala: This Nation’s Brilliant Flood Control System Has Many Lessons!

The Delta Plan, along with another hydraulic project– Zuiderzee Works, would go on to make one of the seven wonders of the modern world, owing to its incredible hydraulic engineering feat.

On the morning of 31st January 1953, the North Sea brew up a storm which would severely affect the Netherlands, Belgium, England and Scotland. The prediction for the Netherlands looked worst.

The Netherlands, literally means “lower countries” referring to its low land and flat geography, and with about 50% of its land exceeding 1 metre above sea level, the Netherland’s estuaries and tributaries would fill to submerge the land beside it.

The canals, ravines and dykes that had been controlling tributaries and rivers were all damaged due to the World War. The Netherlands was in for a storm of trouble.

The combination of a high spring tide and a severe European windstorm over the North Sea caused a storm tide–further, the winds, the high tide, and the low pressure led to a water level of more than 5.6 metres above mean sea level in some locations.

The two-day storm left affected countries drowning. In the Netherlands alone, it claimed about 1,836 lives and the total damage was about 1 billion Dutch guilders.

The aftermath of North Sea Flood
Images: (from left to right) Cadaver and farm, Zeeland, 1953 © Dolf Kruger, Amphibious vehicle, Zierikzee, Zeeland, 1953 © Aart Klein Arrival flood evacuee on the dock in Rotterdam, 1953 © Ed van der Elsken, Debris, Schouwen, Zeeland, 1953 © Dolf Kruger

After the 1953 flood, governments realised that similar, if not larger threats, were possible in the future. The Netherlands conceived and constructed an ambitious flood defence system beginning in the 1960s, titled the Project Delta Works.

The works were responsible for 14 major hydraulic infrastructure projects consisting of dams, sluices, locks, dykes, levees, and storm surge barriers all to shorten the Dutch coastline.


GiveIndia and The Better India have come together to help Rebuild Kerala by supporting 41,000 affected families. You too can be a part of this movement and help us raise funds for the NGOs working to rehabilitate these families. If all of us come together with a small monthly contribution, we can make a real and meaningful difference in helping restore normalcy to those who need our help the most.

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An important part of this project was fundamental research to come up with long-term solutions, to protect the Netherlands against future floods. Instead of analysing past floods and building protection sufficient to deal with those, the Delta Works Commission pioneered a conceptual yet futuristic framework to use as a norm for investment in flood defences. This was called the “Delta Plan”.

The Delta Plan, along with another hydraulic project– Zuiderzee Works, would go on to make one of the seven wonders of the modern world, owing to its incredible hydraulic engineering feat.

Sources: LEFT: The Maeslantkering storm surge barrier. RIGHT: The Oosterschelde barrier Source: Private Guides/ Holland.com

One of the structures of the Delta Works is the Maeslantkering, a storm surge barrier on the Nieuwe Waterweg, Netherlands, controlled by a supercomputer. It is one of the largest moving structures on Earth, which closes the dam if the city of Rotterdam is threatened by floods.

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During the construction, environmental policies were also taken into account in an attempt to preserve the natural life around the estuaries and the coastline.

It was not only the Delta project that was responsible for the Netherlands being well guarded against floods. In 1993 and 1995, the country was under constant threat of flooding. As a result, the Room For River Project was established.

The goal of the programme was to give the river more room to be able to manage higher water levels. This was done by deepening the river beds, relocating dykes, and providing green channels which served as flood bypass.

One of the objectives of the Dutch was not to fight with water but live with it. The government educates people on how to make flood brigades, which can be installed during flood times. The government also made it mandatory for citizens to learn swimming to be useful at times of calamity.

The Netherlands is a great case study for governments to prepare their land and people in a time of calamity. In the Kerala floods, the damage caused is no close to the pain suffered by the people.

Left: The Estuaries that outline Netherlands . Right: The NASA image of Kerala affected by floods. Source: NASA

The Dutch Works is the frontier for hydraulic engineering and is providing support in all forms. It sends Surge Support Teams in response to crisis around the globe; supplies experts on water and water-related disasters to countries. These teams give advice, leaving implementation to the discretion of the requesting government.


GiveIndia and The Better India have come together to help Rebuild Kerala by supporting 41,000 affected families. You too can be a part of this movement and help us raise funds for the NGOs working to rehabilitate these families. If all of us come together with a small monthly contribution, we can make a real and meaningful difference in helping restore normalcy to those who need our help the most.

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And it should be of utmost priority for the government to provide such aid to its people, especially to states like Kerala and Nagaland, which are always in danger of flooding.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)


Hey, you may also like: This New Tech By Kerala Architects Could Build Post-Flood Houses Under Rs 5 Lakh!


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