How the Netherlands is using nature-based solutions to improve water security

The Netherlands is a global leader in the development and use of nature-based solutions (NBS) to improve water security.

The Netherlands is a global leader in the development and use of nature-based solutions (NBS) to improve water security. Image: Pexels/Adrien Olichon

Klaas De Groot
Senior Water Resources Management Specialist, World Bank
Berenice Flores Arias Uijtewaal
Water Supply and Sanitation Specialist, World Bank
Heba Ahmed
Operations Analyst, World Bank
Phuong Hoang Ai Nguyen
Senior Environmental Specialist, World Bank
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Netherlands

  • Nature-based solutions (NBS) can play a critical role in improving water security, including mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
  • The Netherlands has a long history of using NBS to manage water resources, and these solutions have proven to be effective in reducing flooding, improving water quality, and providing other benefits.
  • One example of a successful NBS in the Netherlands is the Marker Wadden, a new archipelago created in the Wadden Sea.
  • The Marker Wadden is helping to improve water quality, provide habitat for wildlife, and create new opportunities for recreation.

Green infrastructure and Nature-based solutions (NBS) can play a critical role in improving water security, including mitigation and adaptation to climate change. It is often more resilient, flexible, and reversible than traditional infrastructure, and it can allow clients to gradually adapt to changing circumstances.

This added value is important given the uncertainties related to the level of climate change they have to cope with. Better balances between green and grey have the potential to make our projects more efficient if we learn to fully optimize the broad range of benefits delivered by NBS. Many good examples and best practices are available from which we can learn.

The Netherlands is a unique place in the world to learn from NBS. About one-third of the country lies below sea level and there are emblematic examples to share along its coastline, its freshwater bodies, and cities.

The extreme situations in 1993 and 1995, when more than 200,000 people evacuated, were drivers to increase the country's understanding of how to build with nature instead of fighting against it. With the aim to explore NBS projects in a real-world setting, representatives from Argentina, Bangladesh, Chile, Egypt, and Vietnam traveled to the Netherlands, with support of the World Bank.

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The focus of the trip was to learn about flood risk reduction, drought impact mitigation, restoration of ecosystems and how to optimize the broad range of benefits of NBS in urban and rural contexts. A common thread woven throughout the narrative shared by Dutch experts is the use of six NBS enablers to facilitate, optimize, and scale-up the implementation of NBS through green interventions and a “building with nature” approach.

These enablers are well covered by the work of the Global Program on Nature Based Solutions for Resilience financed by GFDRR and GWSP and knowledge products shared by the World Bank team including the reports on Integrating Green and Grey Infrastructure, Natural Storage, NBS in Cities, and how to assess costs and benefits of NBS.

In the Netherlands, the importance of these enablers could be witnessed through four emblematic examples:

1. Sand Motor, located along the coast of The Hague’s Kijkduin. While traditional and frequent sand suppletion to maintain the coastline is costly and has negative environmental impacts the Sand Motor uses natural processes creating new habitats and opportunities for recreation and economic development. Instead of frequent sand suppletion along the coast, a large volume of offshore sand was deposited at Kijkduin and wind, waves, and tidal movement naturally distribute the sand, mainly in northern direction, which helps achieving the flood risk level established by law.

The NBS enabler Technology and System knowledge, which refers to deep understanding of the physical, environmental, and social context, allows for successful implementation while Management, Monitoring and Maintenance improves the sustainability of the interventions.

2. The Marker Wadden allow people living in one of the most densely populated regions in the Netherlands to enjoy and be inspired by nature. The intervention is Managed, Monitored and Maintained to enhance biodiversity and improve ecosystem services for ecological quality and recreation while it improves water quality in one of the largest freshwater bodies of the country.

It has proven to be a good example of the enabler Multi-stakeholder Approach. The Business Case for this project is unique in that an NGO alongside private sector, and local and national governments contributed to financing the investment. Consultancies and construction firms were challenged through a Design & Build approach to apply their most innovative expertise leading to a pioneering approach. The NGO (Natuur Monumenten) led the implementation of this NBS, realizing a long-standing goal to increase the natural value of one of the Marker Lake. Rental revenues from a limited number of cabins for tourists on the islands cover maintenance costs.

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3. The city of Dordrecht is actively using NBS to address climate change and flood risk management challenges while seeking active participation of citizens though a Multi-stakeholder Approach. Green infrastructure improves the urban environment reducing flood risks and the heat island effect while increasing property value and green areas for people to recreate.

4. The city of Noordwaard in the Biesbosch showed the delegations how adopting the “living with water” concept and allowing room for the river can reduce flood risks in cities along the river. This approach also creates opportunities for multifunctional use, attracting different types of investors and presenting a compelling Business Case.

Institutional embedding has been fundamental for the success of the Noordwaard as multiple authorities at the local, provincial, and national levels, as well as the water board, have partially overlapping responsibilities and mandates. A precondition for success is transparency, coordination, and collaboration.

The sixth enabler concerning Capacity Building is what allows the Dutch water sector to evolve and improve. Increasing awareness, enhancing system knowledge, working with stakeholders across sectors, and strengthening business cases are needed to adapt to climate change, gradually where possible and transformative when needed.

For the delegates and Bank colleagues, the study tour resulted in many lessons learned on how to plan, finance, implement, monitor, and evaluate NBS and how cross-sectoral stakeholder participation leads to the optimization of additional benefits.

Ideas on how to prepare business cases were well received even though, in most cases, flood risk management is still financed mainly by public funds. This inspirational journey has been very effective to further build the delegation’s capacity to take home new ideas for NBS to adopt and adapt to the institutional, social, legal, financial, and physical context in their countries.

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