THE HAGUE (AFP) — Low-lying Netherlands must spend more than 100 billion euros on dike upgrades and coastal expansion to avoid the ravages of rising sea levels due to global warming, experts warned Wednesday.
The country, nearly two-thirds of which lies below sea level, must spend up to 1.5 billion euros (2.1 billion dollars) per year over the next century on additional safety measures, said a report compiled by a government appointed commission.
"The security challenge is urgent: the climate is changing, the sea level rising and river flows increasing while a quarter of dikes and dams do not meet the current safety norms," states the report presented to Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende in The Hague.
It said "an extra amount of between one and 1.5 billion euros per year is needed to 2100." The figure represents about 0.3 percent of national income.
The Delta commission recommended a large-scale upgrade of dikes protecting the country from the North Sea.
And it proposed expanding the North Sea coast by a kilometre by dumping large quantities of sand -- a project for which extra 100 to 300 million euros would be needed.
"We will not wait for a disaster; we want to be prepared so that we are not taken by surprise," said commission chairman Cees Veerman.
And the country may have to look to Europe for help.
"If the problem gets worse, we will have to talk with our European partners about how we can share the costs within Europe," Veerman said, adding that Dutch rivers were the "drain" of the continent.
Predicting a sea level rise of between 0.65 and 1.3 metres (2.15 and 4.3 feet) by 2100, and up to four metres by 2200, the commission said the chances of flooding multiplied 100-fold with every 1.3 metre rise in the sea level.
And it warned of Dutch fresh water resources dwindling as salty sea water is forced further and further inland.
"The rising sea level ... longer dry periods and encroaching salt water via rivers and ground water puts the country's fresh water under threat," says the report.
"This in turn threatens the provision of drinking water, agriculture, shipping and water-related economic sectors."
The commission said inland areas directly sheltered from the sea and rivers by dikes and dunes contained about nine million of the country's 16 million inhabitants.
"Sixty-five percent of our national (production) capacity lies in flood-prone areas; conservatively estimated, the damage (from flooding) could be 1,800 billion euros."
The commission presented a 12-point plan that involved the upgrading of different types of water barriers, boosting fresh water reservoirs, increasing river flow capacity and storing surplus river water.
"The urgency for executing the plan is great," states the report. "The Netherlands has a backlog ... while the climate is fast changing and the sea level is rising probably faster than predicted.
"The economic, social and environmental imperative for the Netherlands (to ward off rising water levels) is great and growing: a dike breach will have severely disruptive consequences for the whole country."
Balkenende welcomed the report, saying his government will examine ways of funding the plan.
"The Netherlands is currently well protected against water ... we want to keep it that way," he told the commissioners.
"If we tackle this sensibly, the Netherlands can emerge from the battle against rising water even stronger."
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