Monday, May 10, 2010


By Ivy

We spent the day today learning about different aspects of Dutch water management. As each presenter analyzed a different aspect of water management, from its history to the plans for the future, I was struck by a few stark differences to the American way of disaster planning, along with one comforting annoyance.

First, the Dutch have no flood insurance. At first this seems a bit counterintuitive; flooding is the major threat here, besides choking on a pickled fish, so wouldn't you want the utmost protection? However, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. It's honest. The insurance companies figure there's no way to insure a disaster like the Flood of 1953 (the largest flood in modern Dutch history and the impetus for proactive flood protection), so why bother. On the other hand, people should understand the dangers and consequences of living where they do, which is often (at least in the States) reflected in the price of your property/flood insurance (especially in Florida). In a way, this is experienced in Florida to an extent, with different insurance companies pulling out of the market, leaving Citizen's insurance vulnerable (and potentially insolvent) in the case of a large scale disaster.

The other main difference can be explained by more statistics. The GNP and the number of inhabitants of The Netherlands is roughly equal to that of Florida. From this perspective, if Florida could devote all its resources and energy to the types of disasters directly impacting it, i.e. hurricanes, drought, and potential sea level rise, they may have the success and consensus reached in The Netherlands, as it musters its population against flooding. However, Florida is part of the entire United States, where resources must be divided between a very diverse range of threats, leaving a smaller piece of the pie to water management.

Some refreshing insights from today revolved around how government functions. Although The Netherlands are much smaller in scale than the United States, it was still somewhat comforting to hear that their Building Department equivalent doesn't always talk to their water managers and that they often have to consolidate multiple local plans into one regional or national plan, often with much wrangling and disagreement. I suppose everyone in the world understands laughter and bureaucracy.

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