International relevance Room for the River Programme

Written by Chris Zevenbergen & Emma Meurs, on 6 June 2014

High water level protection for the 4 million inhabitants of the river catchments in the Netherlands, this is the goal of the Room for the River programme which will be completed in 2015. The programme is considered a national and international example for integrated flood risk management and multi-level governance. Interest in the successes of Room for the River especially comes from Asia, where flood risk of rivers is a pressing issue. A group of professionals from Asia will visit the iLent project in Nijmegen, on the occasion of the 3rd Asia-Netherlands Water Learning Week organized by IHE Delft and the Asian Development Bank.

Drivers of flood risk

World-wide the frequency and impacts of flooding exhibit a steep increasing trend. The key drivers are the world’s population growth and the increase of socio-economic activities (development) in flood-prone areas, and society’s growing interdependency on flood protection and drainage infrastructure of which a significant part is of unknown or of poor condition. It is more and more recognized that flood risk management approaches should be able to respond to changes in the natural and socio-economic environment. Moreover they should perform well under various potential futures as there is inherent uncertainty about the magnitude of the drivers of flood risk.

Specifically river basins are highly dynamic and complex systems. The challenges for flood risk management strategies of river basins are manifold, as water safety issues interact with a wide range of environmental and socio-economic sectors including health, agriculture, biodiversity, industry, navigation and tourism. In addition, in transboundary river basins differences in legal frameworks, historical and cultural backgrounds add to the complexity. Flood risk management of river basins requires a programmed approach including the supporting capabilities such as integrated and adaptive policy frameworks and the institutional capacity at multiple levels and across different jurisdictions and countries to exploit these interactions by creating synergies or avoiding undesired outcomes.

Growing international interest

In the Netherlands, such an integrated and programmed approach referred to as the Room for the River Programme is currently being implemented in the Dutch Rhine River Basin. This programme is considered the first in the Netherlands to adopt a multi-level governance approach in which NGO’s and private stakeholders in different disciplines (e.g. water safety, planning, agriculture, nature) and at national, regional and local levels are actively collaborating to reduce the flood risk and to increase the spatial quality by creating more space for the river.

There is a growing international interest to exchange innovative concepts and best practices of these integrated programmed approaches such as used for the delivery of the Room for the River Programme. However, transferring these to other countries is likely to be a major challenge as it calls for fundamental changes in institutional arrangements at various levels.

Research on flood risk management

Recently executed research by the Flood Resilience Group of IHE Delft has identified key features and conditional factors supporting effective development and implementation of the Room for the River Programme in the Netherlands. The research also assessed the potential for effective transfer of the concept of Room for the River Programme across other river basins around the world. In particular, emphasis was laid on the transferability of the concept of Room for the River based on an analysis of the conditional factors of five different river basins: Mississippi River (US), Rhine (Germany, Netherlands), Seine (France), Brisbane River (Australia) and Huaihe River (China). The material for the five river basins was collected during interviews with local, regional and national stakeholders and at an international conference (November 2012) dedicated to this topic as well as from the literature.

More and more there is a need for research on flood risk protection and good governance of adaptation to flooding. Early this year Jeroen Rijke and Sebastiaan van Herk promoted at the Technical University of Delft and IHE Delft addressing the pressing challenges of policy makers, planners and project managers in the water sector to successfully implement adaptation action as well as the need for Integrated Flood Risk Management.

More information about the research of Jeroen Rijke and Sebastiaan van Herk can be found here and here.

Partnerships for Green Growth and Water Security

IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and the Asian Development Bank organize the 3rd Asia-Netherlands Water Learning Week from 16 to 20 June 2014 in Delft, the Netherlands.

Spurred by agreement in Rio+20 on The Future We Want, government water leaders in Asia and the Netherlands are searching for innovative solutions to secure their countries’ water futures and green their economies. How to mainstream R&D to boost water productivity, conservation and reuse across sectors, reduce water footprints, clean up waterways, and create multifunctional and green infrastructure? How much space do rivers need? What makes communities more resilient, and water agencies more adaptive in the face of rapid changes? How can the corporate sector help governments manage for results?

To answer these and more questions, 3rd Asia-Netherlands Water Learning Week will bring leaders together in dialogues and knowledge sharing on ´Partnerships for Green Growth and Water Security'.

Learn more about the Asia-Netherlands Water Learning Week here.