WITH the UK Government facing mounting criticism for its failure to protect low-lying communities from floods, an innovative Dutch solution to the problem is attracting international attention.

While British residents desperately pile heavy sandbags up against their houses in a vain attempt to keep rising waters at bay, their counterparts in Holland look on in comfort from their floating homes.

Houses on stilts are already a common sight in flood-prone countries like Burma, India and Thailand but the Netherlands has gone one step further and created an amphibious building where the house is built on a platform that can float if necessary.

The buildings rise as the water level rises, sinking back to their original position when the floods recede.

Standing on hollow pontoons made of timber and concrete, the houses are kept firmly in place by hefty posts drilled deep into the ground. Ducts and pipes for gas, electricity, sewage disposal and water are flexible and able to function even if the house rises by several metres.


Floating houses were first built in 2005, 100km from Amsterdam at Maasbommel on the River Maas. The 37 amphibious buildings can rise by four metres if necessary and boats can be moored alongside the popular clapboard homes.

It has now been predicted that floating houses could make up 40 per cent of the shortfall in land suitable for development in Holland over the next 50 years.

Environment director Dr Chris Zevenbergen, of the construction company Dura Vermeer, said the cost of building the flood-proof bunkers and bases of the houses was cheaper than building foundations on dry land.

Steigerland, a newly developed area of east Amsterdam, has 43 floating homes tied up to four mooring posts.

“Life seems like a permanent holiday here,” said resident William Blokker, admiring the vista from his rooftop terrace. He admitted the houses do rock a little if the water is choppy, but said he had got used to it.


With one third of the Netherlands at or below sea level and rainfall expected to increase by up to 25 per cent, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, Dutch authorities have realised they must meet the challenge or face another catastrophe as serious as the flood in 1953 which claimed nearly 2,000 lives.

Holland is Europe’s most densely occupied country and two-thirds of the Dutch already live below sea level. The floating houses are just one of the innovations that have been introduced to address the problem. As well as more rain, sea levels are expected to rise in the country by as much as 1.3 metres this century and up to four metres over the next 200 years.

The country has been creating artificial land or “polder” for hundreds of years, with swamps first drained as far back as the 12th century. Windmill-powered pumps famously kept the land dry but the Dutch would no longer rely on one lad’s finger to stem a breach in a dyke as in the famous story.

“The Dutch have built dykes for over 1,000 years,” said Jos Maccabiani from Flood Control 2015, a Dutch Government programme aimed at creating improved information systems for managing floods.

“Since the last major flood in 1953, in which more than 1,800 people died, this system has been upgraded to very high standards.”


Flooding would have a greater impact now than 50 years ago. The Dutch population has grown, so there are more potential victims. As much as 60 per cent of the Netherlands could end up under water, including the largest towns and cities that make up the country’s economic centre. Effective protection against flooding – from the sea or rivers – is therefore essential.

“With the ever-increasing urbanisation of our polders and flood plains, spatial planning is increasingly combined with flood resilience,” added Maccabiani.

“There are projects under way where urban revitalisation of a city is combined with the widening of the river bed, lowering the peak water levels, and others that look into flood-proofing the country’s highway infrastructure.”

One innovation is the “smart levee” where sensors are placed in flood embankments to monitor the levee and warn if it is weakening.

Moveable flood barriers that rise with the water are another part of the flood-proofing.


Rising sea levels and increased rainfall are not the only problems facing the Netherlands, as the country is subsiding more quickly than the sea level is rising. Urbanisation is also putting more pressure on sewage systems, increasing the flooding risk.

Forged in the fight against water, the country is more than able to meet the challenges. The regional water authorities – some of the globes oldest democratic institutions – have long pooled resources and shared decision-making.

Adapting to the changing nature of the risks, the chief focus has switched from constructing bigger dams and higher dykes to widening and deepening rivers, building extra side canals to increase capacity, and setting aside land as dedicated flood plains. Nearly £2 billion is being spent on the measures. “You can’t just solve the problem with dykes, we have to change strategy,” said Pavel Kabat, climate expert at the Dutch Delta Commission. “We shouldn’t see water as a danger, but as a chance, as a challenge.”