Drought? Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

27 October 2022, Martin Doeswijk

The quality of our soil is lousy. The reason? Climate change and how we use (or rather abuse) the soil.

For months, Europe was plagued by drought. The media spouted one doomsday scenario after another. But it did not take long – after the welcome and long-awaited rainfall – before the media coverage of this disappeared like snow in summer. Everyone returned to business as usual, with other crises like war, inflation, nitrogen and earthquakes dominating the front page. What troubles me is how we tend to quickly renounce the ‘never say die’ mode and fail to approach these kinds of major threats with vision.

So, I’m absolutely delighted about the recently published Deltares study into the measures that the Netherlands must take now to anticipate the sea level rise! Climate change, with periods of not only extreme drought but also precipitation, is key to how we (need to) approach this. Where do we build and how can we make the soil better able to tolerate drought or, conversely, excessive moisture? These are things we need to consider when developing and building residential neighbourhoods and industry.

Let it be clear that ensuring healthy soil will be an absolute necessity in the decades to come, a realisation that fortunately has put this topic more squarely on the political and business agenda. But what is really needed is a translation of the insights and outcomes of the Deltares study into a clear vision.

And that vision needs to build on lessons from the past. When the Noordoostpolder was reclaimed during World War II, there was a shortage of building materials (a challenge we once again face today), which resulted in polder development delays. But the time that became ‘available’ resulted in something positive: social demographers were involved in the design plans and, among other things, took a closer look at the composition of the future population, geographical distribution of businesses and necessary facilities and buildings. Even though it took a crisis to motivate this, the extra time was spent on developing a good plan.

So let this be a lesson to us to devote more time to vision development, so that we do not jump (even further) out of the frying pan and into the fire.


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