Dutch May Build Offshore Breaker Islands in Response to Global Warming
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- Dutch engineers are considering creating "breaker islands" off the country's North Sea coast as a possible defense against rising sea levels caused by global warming, a top bureaucrat told a major conference on water Wednesday.
Ineke Bakker, the Netherlands' director general of spacial planning, mentioned the proposal in a keynote address at the start of the "AquaTerra" Forum on Delta and Costal Development this week.
More than two-thirds of the Netherlands' 16 million population lives below sea level, and Dutch policy makers are counting on a rise in sea level of around 80 centimeters (30 inches) in the coming century regardless of the ongoing scientific debate on the causes and likely impact of global warming.
Bakker cited a strategy increasingly being used to strengthen the dunes that protect the country's coast: pumping sand into strategic offshore locations where currents in the North Sea sweep them into place, bulking up the dunes.
"This strategy is successful and relatively cheap" in addressing immediate needs to strengthen the country's water defenses, Bakker said.
"We could use a similar more natural approach in strengthening our coastal defenses in the longer term. For example, by creating a series of small islands off the coast ... instead of raising the current dunes or dams."
That would help protect against storm surges such as the one in 1953 that drove water near the Dutch coast more than 4 meters (13 feet) above normal levels, breaching defenses and killing more than 1,800 people.
That set off a massive 40-year building project that made the country's water defenses among the strongest in the world. But the country's undersecretary of Transportation Melanie Schultz said the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina was a "wake up call" that more work remains.
"We can't delude ourselves that natural disasters occur only in developing countries," she said.
The meeting in Amsterdam brings together experts from the U.S., Netherlands, China, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, and Greece, among others, to trade ideas and discuss ongoing projects in regions that are threatened with flooding.
The Dutch government approved a new euro14 billion (US$18.5 billion) increase in spending on water defenses and water quality improvements over the next 20 years in December.
That's on top of euro3 billion (US$4 billion) in extra projects already in the works this decade against the threat from river floods, as Dutch climate models predict global warming will lead to more abrupt showers in the Rhine catchment area, whose water ultimately funnels through the Netherlands on its way out to the sea.
The country also spends euro500 million (US$660 million) annually on maintaining its intricate existing system of sea and river dikes that have been built and improved for a millennium.
But Schultz said more resources must be devoted to looking at worst-case scenarios.
"I am convinced our efforts should no longer be aimed exclusively on preventing flooding," said. "We also need to be focused much more on the impact of a flood."
Later in the day, Schultz and other top officials met in The Hague to discuss a massive evacuation drill to be held in 2008, which is still in the planning stage.
"We also have to have the (political) courage to make a distinction between densely populated areas that are vulnerable and can't be flooded and areas which can be, if necessary," Schultz said.
"And we need to prepare emergency plans and exercises in the event of future disaster. As I say, there's no such thing as complete safety."
Source: Associated Press