How the Netherlands Fights The North Sea

Contributor: Elephango Editors. Lesson ID: 12715

Having a flooded basement or lawn can be annoying, but what about a flooded country? That's what the Netherlands faced for years. How did they figure out how to hold back the sea?


World, World

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • What would you do if one day an ocean decided to invade your home?

One-third of the Netherlands is below sea level.

No, this does not mean that the land is submerged beneath the sea. Instead, it refers to the height of the ocean flow when it is compared to parts of a mainland.

As a result of this difference in levels, flooding from high tides is a common occurrence and a major problem for people who live in the Netherlands.

For all of their long history, the Dutch people have built barriers to stop water from flooding their lands. These barriers include:

  • dams
  • dikes

Let's take a closer look at each.



A dam is a barrier built across a body of water. It holds water back on one side to prevent flooding.

It also makes the water go up to a higher level than on the other side, as in this illustration:

dam illustration

The side where the water is higher often forms a reservoir, a large lake that can be used as a water supply for drinking, to power an electric plant, as a place for recreation, or for a wildlife habitat.



Unlike dams, dikes don't go across waterways; they go alongside them. They are built-up embankments between the water and the land to prevent flooding.

These can be seen all around the Netherlands!

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Dikes protect land that would naturally be underwater if a dike was not there.

  • So, how did the people living below sea-level in the Netherlands win their battle with the sea?

In the 1930's, they started a large construction project known as the Zuiderzee Works. They built a 20-mile-long dike across a bay of the North Sea and created a freshwater lake:

Zuiderzee Works

They built many dikes and dams, and the Dutch people reclaimed a lot of the flooded land for farming. They used windmills to drain the water.

Watch the following video to learn how!

Netherlands: Polders and Windmills - Rick Steves' Europe Travel Guide - Travel Bite:

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Although this system worked for a long time, it didn't protect the Netherlands from disastrous floods.

In 1953, a large storm flooded the Netherlands, killing 2,000 people. It was decided then that the Netherlands needed better protection from the damaging effects of high tides.

They invested a lot of time, money, and engineering smarts into this project, which took over 30 years to complete!

One of the most amazing aspects of this project is the storm surge barrier, Maeslantkering:


Another is the barrier called Oosterscheldekering:


The map below shows all the Delta Works projects:

By OpenStreetMap.orgClassical geographer [CC BY-SA 1.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Watch the following video to learn more about this amazing engineering project!

Why isn't the Netherlands underwater? - Stefan Al from TED-Ed:

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  • Do you think this project qualifies as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World?

Continue to the Got It? section to summarize what you have learned.

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