Spatial planning is an excellent way of dealing with the risk of flooding, but it requires an organisational framework that involves all stakeholders. This is according to doctoral candidate Peiwen Lu, who has compared the Dutch approach with that adopted in her native country of Taiwan.

The issues with flooding in Taiwan are very different from those in the Netherlands. The main risk in Taiwan is from extreme rainfall or a typhoon. The island has excellent flood defences, but these are relatively simple, using pumps and (temporary) dikes. However, these kind of technical solutions are becoming increasingly expensive because climate change is exacerbating the problems. “They also offer no comprehensive guarantees against climate-related flooding”, says Lu. “A more structured approach is required for greater security.”

In her doctoral research, she compares the approach in Rotterdam to that applied in the Taiwanese cities of Kaohsiung and Tainan. It reveals some marked differences. For example, spatial planning in Taiwan is primarily determined by legislation governing the use of land and tends to have a predominantly economic focus. Water management is generally ignored and seen as the preserve of engineers.
In this regard, the major floods that affected the island in the wake of a tropical storm in 2009 served as a wake-up call, forcing planners to think hard about flood retention areas and adaptive types of housing. However, it remains difficult to implement any changes because of the traditional technocratic approach used to tackle floods – a government official drafts a plan that is then implemented with very little consultation. Lu: “Sometimes, plans have had to be scrapped at a late stage because of excessive costs. In such cases, absolutely no account was taken in advance of the value of the real estate in the designated retention area.”

Taking Rotterdam as her example, she argues that the establishment of a wide-ranging alliance of urban designers, hydraulic engineers, NGOs, municipalities and the residents of an area can enable much more effective spatial planning. Integrating water management and planning, as is done in the Netherlands, can make it possible to plan flood-resistant housing or buildings that flooding cannot reach.

Is there anything that the Netherlands can learn from Taiwan? Lu: “Definitely – we deal much more effectively with extremes. Remedial action can be taken very quickly because we have excellent emergency scenarios and know exactly where any food and sandbags need to be. The Dutch do not anticipate extremes and have much more difficulty dealing with them as a result.”

Published: August 2014