Netherlands: Zero Flood Deaths Since 1953

An investment in flood mitigation begun 67 years ago has paid off for the Netherlands.
Netherlands: Zero Flood Deaths Since 1953

flood barrier at Andrie Oosterwijk, Netherlands

February 7, 2020

The North Sea flood of 1953 devastated the Netherlands, killing 1,835 people and leading the Dutch government to create the Delta Commission. Over the next 45 years, the country spent billions building the Delta Works: a network of dams, dikes, sluices, and storm barriers that is unmatched worldwide. Though most of the Netherlands is either below sea level or prone to river floods, the number of people killed by flooding since 1953 is zero.

With sea levels set to rise faster than ever this century, coastal cities like New York, Miami and Norfolk are looking for solutions to protect their people and infrastructure. Dutch water boards can raise local taxes to invest in flood defenses, so altogether the Dutch spend about €1 billion a year—or just over 0.1 percent of gross domestic product—on what they call “dry-feet insurance,” much of the funding covers maintenance for existing systems, which is cheaper than rebuilding after a disaster strikes. The World Bank estimates that every dollar spent on flood defenses yields returns of $7 to $10.


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