Many think of the Dutch as a passive peaceful country but let it be known that Dutch people have a mortal enemy; an adversary with whom they have battled for centuries.  Whether it originated from sheer determination, ingenuity, necessity or foolishness, no other nation has waged war on water -and won- quite like the Dutch.

The war on water has been a tough one and not without causalities:  the great flood of 1953 killed over 1,800 people and wiped out 2 entire villages. Dutch people however have amassed many a victory along the way: they hold the title for reclaiming the largest piece of land in the world – the “Flevopolder” (the word “polder” refers to low lying land reclaimed using a system of drainage dikes) and the largest artificial island.

Who does one of the richest countries in the world call when they want to make some fancy islands in the middle of the Persian Gulf? The Dutch of course! The Palm Islands project in Dubai was headed by the Dutch company Van Oord who, not surprisingly, specializes in land reclamation and has been in business since the early 1800s.

Astoundingly, 1/6th of the Netherlands (7000km2) is actually reclaimed land. Stranger yet, 60% of Dutch people now live beneath sea level -it turns out that even their enormous height doesn’t help in this case!

If evolution worked like sci-fi films would have you believe, modern-day Dutch would be born with fish-like gills and webbed feet. How handy!

Instilled in the very DNA of a Dutch person is the primal desire to battle the elements.

With a 2,000 history in reclaiming land from the sea, one can only agree that “God created the world, but the Dutch created Holland”.





30 Responses

  1. Stijn Verwijmeren

    The flood of 1953 killed 1836 people.

    • beiink

      The article says over 1800 persons drowned and that’s good enough for me.
      I once knew a woman who went into premature labour on top of the roof of her house. She always said the baby was a flood victim, even if it wasn’t officially counted as such.

  2. Stefmanovic

    And then they spent millions of gilders/euros on building this concrete island in the outskirts of Rotterdam to celebrate the lowest point of the country, and the Dutch’ victory over nature…only to realize that that lowest point is somewhere else. Hilarity guaranteed!

    • Henk

      I like that concept of just flooding your polders if the enemy is near to protect your cities…

      • jasper

        Worked wonders against the Spanish — the Dutch fought them (at the time one of the preeminent empires in the world, flush with silver and gold from the New World) to a standstill (with tactics including flooding as well as guerrilla raids and just outright defense of cities) well enough to become the world’s first republic (kinda, anyway. Still pretty aristocratic.) since Caesar killed off the roman one.

        Which is our other major war. Much like the French republic that later resulted from their Revolution, Napoleon put an end to that.

      • Stefmanovic

        @Jasper: Didn’t Octavius kill off the Roman republic? Besides, there were already plenty of examples of republics from the ancient times, be it the Roman one, of the Greek republics, what about the African ones?

        As for the gold/silver from the New World, isn’t it ironic? I mean, the Spanish committed genocide to steal the Inca gold, after which the Dutch stole it from the Spanish to finance their war against Spain. Pretty badass if you ask me!

      • Jelmou

        @stefmanovic: Well, Ceasar crowned himself emperor, thus effectively ending the Roman republic and restraining the power of the senate and consuls.

  3. rsser

    Dutch drainage workers were employed in England centuries ago.

  4. Dutch as can be

    “With a 2,000 history in reclaiming land from the sea,”

    I guess you’re missing a word here.

    BTW you didn’t mention our new King’s previous job as “water manager”, just to illustrate that it’s imbedded in all layers of our society.

    • Brett

      Too bad all you ever hear now is “global warming” and “man-made climate change”. But I vividly remember back in school in the 1970s/early 80s The general consensus was “We are going into another ice age”. But one thing I know, if there is man-made climate change and the sea level rises, the Dutch will be prepared for it!

  5. Remy

    Excellent article and something I am actually a little proud of when talking about the Netherlands.

  6. ThatGuy

    And how about the Dutch working together with the sea?
    Think of the national parks (such as “het verdronken land van Saeftinge” en het Lauwersmeer), the agriculture in and next to the sea (mussels, samphire (zeekraal) and even cows), the fishing industry, Blauwe Stad where people live pretty much surrounded by water, the many small pipes wich allow for instance ales to travel through the dikes and breed in the creeks wich are more brackish or even sweet.

  7. Brett

    I wished that the USA never borrowed trillions of dollars from China so we can be the world’s police force and go to war with Iraq (twice), Serbia, Somalia, Afghanistan, etc. and instead hired a Dutch Engineering company to help out our gulf coast. The Dutch could build a much better dike and levee system in Louisiana and up the Mississippi River, and preserve the USA’s polder (the New Orleans area). I would definitely live below sea level in Holland, but never, ever in south Louisiana!

    • Arnout

      After Katrina the city of New Orleans die hire dutch engineers, who designed the “dijken” (not really sure how to write the english word) which helpt to keep the city dry when the next big storm in 2012 came. There’s an article about it, but it’s in dutch so i didn’t linked it here.

      • Nerner

        It can be “dyke” or “dike”

  8. Eric

    Flooding catastrophes or reclaiming land from the sea were not exactly the first thing on my mind when I read the title of this blog, ‘battling it out with water’. Your blog title made me think of my history classes and deliberately inundated land in stead, since the Dutch have used water as a weapon of war in past centuries.

    Try to find ‘Hollandse Waterlinie’ on Wikipedia and you can read how inundating land helped the Dutch to win some battles against the Spanish army during the ‘Tachtigjarige Oorlog’, a war that brought the Netherlands it’s independence as a republic, after the signing of a peace treaty in 1648 in Münster, Germany.

    We tried the same strategy of inundating land to defend the Netherlands against the French army (was it 1795 or 1806?), but the Dutch lost that battle as winter came and turned the water into ice, so the French troops simply walked over the ice. When the Germans occupied the Netherlands in 1940, they simply used airplanes…

    The Netherlands has suffered many big floodings, like the SInt Elisabethsvloed in 1421, that created the Biesbosch, a national park close to Dordrecht. At the Zuiderzee, now called IJsselmeer, flooding occurred in 1916 and 3 more times in only 50 years. Also don’t forget the Maas river floodings of 1993 and 1995, that hit Limburg so hard.

  9. Peter

    I’ve begun a campaign against Holland. Not the country, but the word. The official name of the country is “The Kingdom of The Netherlands”. My passport says so. Not “The Kingdom of Holland”. Like the US citizen’s passport states “United States of America”, which is even worse. There are no “United States of America”. America isn’t a country but a continent, stretching from Canada/Alaska to Argentina/Chile. By the way, being British is the worst of all. Calling a Scotsman English will probably get you hit over the head with a bottle of whisky. Or a bottle of whiskey in N. Ireland.
    So I’m a citizen of “The Netherlands”. Holland just denotes two provinces of a total of twelve, namely North- and South-Holland.
    Holland is for tourists who don’t get any further than those provinces on their trip.

  10. Albert Hummel

    Hey there!

    I love the articles you write and reading them makes me smile everytime. Especially the parts which i recognize in myself. With me being a Dutchy of course! hehe

    As a small addition to this article it might be fun to remark the following:

    ” Every dutch kid will have memories of going to the beach and… Creating dikes / channel and other waterworks on the shoreline! So you could say they grew up fighting against water.”

    I’m pretty damned sure everyone has done this while they were young! Ask anyone and they’ll say yes haha.

    Keep up the great work!


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