Pre 1970s dike workers and builders. Seadike at the village of Westkapelle, Zeeland. For ages there was a number of men in the village who were responsible for the maintenance of the dike. Over the years these men became a subculture on their own with their own distinct costume, habits, jargon, etc. which was handed down from one generation to the next / Ard Hesselink, Flickr -

The Dutch Delta Programme

The Dutch Delta Programme: national flood risk management (FRM) implements strategies that aimed to protect the Netherlands against flooding, while anticipating climate change and socio-economic developments up to 2100.  It consists of a multi-governmental approach, stakeholder participation, and adaptive strategies that deal with uncertainty and link with other agendas/policy fields. Adequate institutional arrangements (legal and financial) guarantee future-proof implementation.  FRM is a three-layered approach that has been developed in which protection (against floods), prevention (damage) and disaster management (casualties) are integrated (“multi-layered safety”).

Case Study

The Dutch Delta Programme: national flood risk management (FRM) policies anticipating climate change.


HFA Priority Action

All priorities of action (1,2,3,4,5), especially # 1.


FRM is of vital importance for the Netherlands, as 60% of its territory is flood prone. Present FRM policy strongly relies on protective measures (dikes, dams, barriers). Hence, flood awareness is almost absent (OECD, 2014). However 100% protection can never be guaranteed. In the rare event a flood does occur, flood proofing of urban areas (including vital services), public awareness and adequate disaster management should reduce damage, fatalities and large-scale societal disruption.

This process of FRM improvement started without a disaster and is a momentum-generating event. This requires the commitment of involved authorities, acceptance by stakeholders, linked agendas, multifunctional measures and adequate institutional arrangements.


The Netherlands

How the problem was addressed

Flood risk assessments (fatalities, damage) were performed on a regional (dike ring) scale. The national ministry of Infrastructure and Environment coordinated this effort, in cooperation with knowledge institutes and water boards. Based on these assessments, the national and regional authorities agreed on new flood protection standards. The flood defenses have to comply with these standards in 2050. Parliament agreed on the resulting acceptable levels of individual risk (everywhere in the Netherlands the individual risk of drowning will be 10-5/yr or less) and economic damage. 

To reduce the consequences of a potential flood, the national, regional and local authorities will implement measures to improve flood proofing of urban areas (especially vital services, like energy, telecom, water supply, hospitals) and strengthen disaster management (evacuation plans, public information). An app was launched to increase public awareness ( (“can I be flooded?”).

The new flood protection standards result in differentiated protection levels that differ from present standards. The main challenge was to translate the technical information of flood risk assessments and new standards to administrative and political decision makers. This challenge was tackled by the strong involvement of regional decision makers during the entire process, who were assisted with technical expertise and examples from their own areas. This required time, the strong commitment of all parties and political leadership. The (independent) Delta Commissioner directs this process regarding progress, acceptance and uniformity.


1) Updated flood protection standards: a rolling multiyear flood defense improvement plan will implement this before 2050;

2) Administrative agreement between national, regional and local authorities (and parties responsible for vital services) to make the urban environment and vital services flood-proof before 2050;

3) Agreement between the Minister of Safety and Justice and regional disaster management organizations to improve flood related disaster management (public communication, evacuation).

Measuring success

When the flood defenses meet the new standards in 2050 the individual flood risk will be at least 10-5/yr everywhere in the Netherlands; economic risk will be reduced by a factor of 20, the probability of 1,000 fatalities due to a flood will be reduced by a factor of 45. In addition, in 2050, vital services will be flood-proof and disaster management / evacuation plans will be improved.

Relevance to HFA

The results have significantly contributed to HFA goals: flood risk is the dominant natural hazard in the Netherlands. A large-scale flood might disrupt the country for a long period.

The strategies included in the Delta Programme will improve FRM in the coming decades to maintain the Netherlands as a safe and attractive habitat for present and future generations. In addition the links with other agendas (urban development, nature, aging infrastructure) has created added value and improved acceptance of the measures.

The HFA played an important role by introducing risk-based policy development, by highlighting the contribution of disaster management, and by creating opportunities to exchange experience and knowledge.

Potential for replication

All delta-regions around the world face similar challenges related to the interaction between water related threats (floods, droughts, salinization, subsidence) that may increase due to climate change, and pronounced socio-economic developments.

The approach of the Delta Programme (long-term vision, adaptive strategies linking long-term challenges with short-term decisions on investments (aging infrastructure), multi-governance approach, links with other policy fields (agriculture, urban development, nature), institutional arrangements) can also be adopted in other delta-regions like Vietnam (Mekong), Bangladesh.

Contribution by

Jos van Alphen:

Carel de Villeneuve:

Corsmas Goemans: