In February 1995 large areas of the Low Countries were deluged
with water, and floods threatened many major towns. The Rhine and its
tributaries burst their banks in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.
The Rhine river basin
The River Rhine is the major waterway of the European continent.
It rises in the Alps, flows north and west for 1,320 kilometres
(820 miles) and drains an area of 220,000 sq. km before flowing into the North
Sea. On its way it passes through Switzerland, Germany, France and the
Netherlands (where it is called the River Waal). In the Netherlands the river is
in its lower course and it flows into many distributaries. Its tributaries
include the rivers – Meuse (Maas), Main, Moselle (Mosel) and Ruhr. 40,000,000
people live either along the Rhine or in its drainage basin. The River Rhine
passes through some of the most important industrial areas in the world. 45% of
the river pollutants which flow into the North sea comes from the Rhine.
Facts about the floods in the Netherlands:
Holland is a country where 75% of the land is below sea level
and, as a result, 15 million people live below sea level. The dykes are the only
protection the Dutch have against flooding. In February 1995, the Rhine and its
tributaries (the Meuse and the Mosel), burst their banks in France Belgium, the
Netherlands and Germany. Large areas of the Low Countries (Belgium, Luxembourg,
the Netherlands) were flooded and many major towns were threatened.
The Dutch have defended themselves against the sea for centuries
by an elaborate network of dykes 2,500 km (1,500 miles) long but, this time the
floodwaters came from the rivers, from water flowing as a result of heavy
rainfall in the Ardennes and a flood of melted snow in the Alps. For two years
running, levels of flooding have occurred that, statistically, would normally
happen only once a century. The flood waters swamped farmland, much of it in the
polder regions, where the land had been reclaimed from estuaries and river
A full-scale catastrophe in the Netherlands was avoided, thanks
partly to the action to shore up threatened dykes and well-organised evacuation
procedures. If the protecting dykes had collapsed the land would be submerged
under 20 feet of water. While the dykes are all sufficiently high, the danger
comes from water undermining their stability from underneath. Dykes are made of
sand and clay and act like a sponge, absorbing water. The longer the exposure
the greater the risk of collapse.
On 31 January 1995, at Lobith, where the Rhine enters the
Netherlands from Germany, the level had risen to 13.48 metres above sea level.
In the Netherlands, at least 4 people were killed , some 250,000
had to be evacuated and large tracts of cities were submerged between 30 January
and 1 February 1995 – mostly from the Limburg region south of Nijmegen and
from Zeeland, around Rotterdam, Europe's largest port.
On 2 February 1995 there were signs that the dykes around the
River Waal were crumbling. The Waal, one of the two Dutch arms of the Rhine, was
several miles wide and looked more like the Amazon or the Mississippi than a
continental European river. The potential for greatest damage to the environment
and property was south of the Waal, to the east of Nijmegen.
Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands suffered heavy
economic costs in terms of damaged property and lost output.