Explained: Netherlands’ ‘Room for the River’ project that Kerala CM wants to replicate

Vishnu Varma
Last year, Kerala had witnessed the century’s worst floods, which claimed nearly 500 lives and wiped out thousands of homes.

At the beginning of his 13-day European tour beginning May 8, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had made a stop at Noordward in the Netherlands, the site of the ‘Room for the River’ project. The flagship project of the Dutch government is centered around protecting areas adjoining rivers from routine flooding and improving water management systems in delta regions.

On his return from Europe this week, the Kerala CM spoke of incorporating the model in the state’s ‘Rebuild Kerala’ plan. Last year, Kerala had witnessed the century’s worst floods, which claimed nearly 500 lives and wiped out thousands of homes.

The Netherlands has historically been prone to flooding of rivers due to its low elevation. Much of the country lies below the sea level. The country is located in the delta region of several major rivers like the Rhine, the Meuse and the Scheldt.

In fact, the rise of water levels in the sea and rivers due to the effects of climate change is one of the major challenges facing the Dutch. But over the years, the country’s expert water management techniques and creation of independent local government bodies for flood control have borne praise across the world.

The basic premise of the ‘Room for the River’ project is essentially to provide more space for the water body so that it can manage extraordinary high water levels during floods. The project, implemented at over 30 locations across the Netherlands and funded at a cost of 2.3 billion euros, involves tailor-made solutions for each river.

Among the nine measures which define the project are lowering the flood plain, deepening the summer bed, strengthening of dykes, relocation of dykes, reducing the height of the groynes, increasing the depth of the side channels and removing obstacles.

A key aspect of the project is also to improve the surroundings of the river banks through fountains and panoramic decks. The landscapes are altered in a way that they turn into natural sponges which can accommodate excess water during floods.

The LDF government in Kerala believes the project and its foundational ideals can be replicated in Kuttanad, the state’s rice bowl located below the sea-level. In the floods last year, Kuttanad and adjoining regions in Kottayam and Alappuzha districts remained submerged for weeks.

Since the major rivers in the state empty out into Kuttanad, there’s a need for long-term comprehensive solutions on the lines of the Dutch project to prevent flooding in the region.