Major floods ravaged the Netherlands in 1953, taking more than 1,500 lives in their wake.
After this catastrophe, the Dutch government resolved to prevent such events from happening again through engineering and new technology.
With that history in mind, Dutch Ambassador to Costa Rica Matthijs van Bonzel formulated a quick plan to help the communities along Costa Rica’s AtlanticCoast, and even neighboring Panama, which have suffer from floods virtually every year.
Last week, nearly 2,000 people were forced into shelters in the cantons of Matina and Talamanca, on the Caribbean slope, where the government declared a state of emergency.
“Since these floods happen every year, we have to think about solutions, not only in the sense of emergency, but also in terms of structural solutions,” van Bonzel said.
In the last five years the National Emergency Commission has spent $500 million to repair damages caused by flooding and rains, said Carlos Samayoa, representative of the Pan American Health Organization here.
“It’s a tremendous waste of resources,” he said. “We aren’t seeing efforts to prevent (these damages) … There isn’t a long term vision.”
The Dutch Embassy is searching for engineering experts in the Netherlands as well as in Costa Rica to do an assessment of the affected areas and ultimately design a durable solution for the flood problems in Costa Rica.
The visits to the affected areas would most likely happen, van Bonzel said, when the water recedes sometime in January. In addition, the embassy will use part of its budget to pay for the research conducted under this project.
“It is important that experts from the same area that has been affected could help us determine the factors that need to be changed,” van Bonzel said.
So far, the Dutch office has contacted the Atlantic Port Authority (JAPDEVA) and Foreign Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz to discuss how all of these agencies can work together to improve the structure of the areas hit by heavy floods.
Currently, the Netherlands has strong business relations with Costa Rica as its third largest trade partner, after the United States and China. The Dutch want to expand those ties to include engineering consulting, particularly in the field of hydraulic technology.
More than half of the Netherlands is below sea level. But with new hydraulic technology, this country has been able to gradually augment its territory by building more dikes and places for water to go.
“In Holland,” the ambassador said, “we have to maintain the dikes in good condition in order to keep our feet dry, especially in the areas around the rivers.”
In the last few decades, Holland has had to deal with flood issues similar to Costa Rica’s, van Bonzel said.
The quantities of water that flow through the rivers are bigger than before, in great part due to climate changes. Van Bonzel said increasing the height of the dikes is not enough anymore to maintain the water in its course.
In the 1990s, Holland took the initiative of creating technology that gave water the space it needed.
“We have opened dikes, and in certain points around the country we have created emergency ponds where water can disperse freely. This allows water to decrease its speed or force,” van Bonzel said.
“We have to find places where to set the water in Costa Rica, where it can have its space so it does not damage residential areas,” van Bonzel said. “This could be complicated in Costa Rica, obviously, because these are lands where cultivations currently exist.”
In 2005, the United States obtained assistance from Dutch consulting firms specializing in aquatic engineering shortly after the New Orleans area was affected by Hurricane Katrina.
The difference was that the United States had funds to carry out these studies with foreign companies, van Bonzel said.
“Costa Rica does not, and that is why we are trying to work together in a cooperative manner,” he said.