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As Climate change dries out Europe, the Netherlands faces a shortage of drinking water

As climate change dries out Europe, the Netherlands, a country known for its overabundance of water, is suddenly confronting drought.

Windmills of Kinderdijk in the Netherlands. Source - Lidia Fourdraine, CC SA 3.0.
Windmills of Kinderdijk in the Netherlands. Source - Lidia Fourdraine, CC SA 3.0.

As climate change dries out Europe, the Netherlands, a country known for its overabundance of water, is suddenly confronting a water shortage.

The Netherlands, informally known as Holland, is a country known for its excess water. Only 50 percent of its land exceeds 3.3 feet (1 meter) above sea level.

For years, the Dutch have used windmills to pump excess water out of soggy farmland and into canals to be whisked away. Dikes stopped more from flooding in, according to the New York Times.

In a study released last week, scientists from France, India, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the United States collected data from across the world, to assess if man-made climate change was responsible for the increased drought conditions in the Northern Hemisphere.

Data varied across the observed regions, but the overall observations led participants to conclude that increased temperatures from man-made climate change were the main factor contributing to global drought, according to the UPI.

Friesland (Netherlands) in July 2020. Source – Bruno Rijsman, CC SA 2.0.

The point is this – Many parts of the world are grappling with widening swings between very wet conditions and very dry ones. Countries like the Netherlands must now plan for both extremes, even though the best preparations for one can be at odds with the best preparations for the other.

“We are world champions in making land dry,” said Peter van Dijk, a blueberry grower based in the country’s south. “Now we are trying to turn that system around because we overshot.”

The government has a real challenge on its hands. Officials have so far, at least, stayed away from raising prices for heavy water users, fearing a backlash. In this, the Dutch are not alone. Other countries are facing the same problems today.

Holland does not want to get farmers riled up by rationing water because they have already staged furious protests against a plan to cut nitrogen emissions.

With a population of 17.7 million all living on a land area of 33,500 sq, km (12,900 sq mi), the Netherlands is the 16th most densely populated country in the world and the second-most densely populated country in the European Union, 

So making tighter rules on housing construction in vulnerable, low-lying areas would only deepen the housing shortage. And the Dutch don’t really have the space to build new reservoirs.

The Oosterscheldekering is a storm surge barrier that is only closed during storms. Source –
rijkswaterstaat.
, Author – Rens Jacobs / Beeldbank V&W.

But the people living in the Netherlands are a resilient lot. If the Netherlands can gird itself for a drier future, “then we can show the world that this is possible,” said Henk Ovink, the country’s globe-trotting envoy for water issues. “It demands upping our game.”

In September this year, 10 major Dutch water companies put out a report, warning that much of the Netherlands faces an imminent shortage of drinking water, largely due to population growth, pollution, and drought. 

According to the report, “the water system is reaching its limit,” and various measures are required in order to ensure the companies are able to continue to supply clean drinking water after 2030. They’re calling on politicians to act with “urgency” on both a national and local scale to tackle the issue.

“That water comes out of the tap seems obvious, but it isn’t,” the report reads. “The availability of water for the drinking water supply is under pressure. In addition, the quality of drinking water sources is deteriorating due to pollution of agriculture, industry, and households. Future generations risk being saddled with a less secure supply of reliable drinking water.”

Throughout its history, the Netherlands has been very successful at getting rid of excess water – and this helped it become an agricultural powerhouse. So there is hope that the country can reverse itself and again embrace its natural swampiness, says Jeroen Geurts, an ecologist at the Dutch water research institute KWR.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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