The city of Dordrecht in the Netherlands is on an island, located in a transition area between the sea and major rivers. As such it is vulnerable to flooding and faces a major challenge from rising sea levels induced by climate change.

We are working with the Dordrecht authorities to develop the city’s unique Staart urban development initiative into a journey which can yield lessons for other urban areas facing similar challenges. This journey explores the shift in approach from prevention to evacuation, and the change in mindset necessary to bring key stakeholders on board for a scenario which may seem statistically improbable but which is increasing likely as climate challenges become more severe. To do this Dordrecht is implementing the “multi-layer safety from floods” concept, developed in the Netherlands, which looks at what to do if the impossible happens and dykes give way.

Multi-layer system from floods

The three layers of safety are:

  1. Protect: Physical flood defences like dykes, storm barriers, defence walls that have been well designed to withstand also rare floods
  2. Prevent: Planning ahead: not granting building licenses in areas where flooding is likely to occur
  3. Prepare: Evacuation plans for when the worst does happen.

To date, the Netherlands has mostly relied on the first layer, protect. Also, the responsibilities for the three layers are not managed within one institution. Various agencies are responsible for flood protection while others are responsible for planning and evacuation. A multi-layer safety approach can only be realized if there is change at the systems level to encourage greater cooperation and coordination between the different agencies.

VWI is supporting the municipality of Dordrecht to transform the De Staart area to function as a safe haven for residents in the event of flooding, using all three layers of the multi-layer system from floods. We are supporting Dordrecht in their dialogue to educate and empower the relevant institutional stakeholders, local citizens, and businesses in the affected area and reconcile their disparate values.