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Dutch find a cure for rising damp: a village full of floating houses

The Weekly Telegraph, Issue no. 686

One of the floating homes in Leeuwarden, northern Holland, which can cost up to £300,000. It is pictured next to a replica of the East Indiaman 'Amsterdam'

CATASTROPHE strikes. Melting ice and a freak storm combine to send monstrous waves crashing through the coastal barriers of the Netherlands. writes Ambrose Enans-Pritchard.

The western provinces where millions live in drained polders below sea level are flooded. The Hague becomes uninhabitable. The low-lying suburbs of Amsterdam return to marshland, or open water.

Thanks to the twin effects of global warming - rising seas and heavier rain - this nightmare scenario is now more likely than ever. According to some estimates, it could happen before the end of the decade.

After recovering ever more land from the sea, the Dutch are being forced to surrender great chunks of it back to nature. Plans are being drawn up for 220,000 acres of farmland to be returned to river floodplains. A major construction programme of floating homes has started.

"We will have to relinquish space to water, and not win space from it. in order to curb the growing risk of disaster due to flooding." a recent study by Holland's water management ministry concluded. "If this is not done in a timely manner, water will sooner or later reclaim the space in its own, perhaps dramatic, manner," it warned.

Pieter van Geel, the Dutch environment secretary, said: "Half of our country is below sea level, and so beyond a certain level it is not possible to build dykes any more. If we have a sea-level rise of two metres, we have no control."

A study this month by the European Environment Agency found that average rainfall in part of northern Europe had risen by up to 40 per cent since 1900.

The Dutch are already turning to floating houses. The first floating village is under construction, at a semi-aquatic city for 20,000 people on the east side of Amsterdam.

The floating homes, built out of wood and aluminum on a polystyrene base, cost between £100,000 and £300,000. They have little terraces but no gardens. If the neighbours are a pest, the house can he towed to another spot by tugboat.

Professor Frits Schoute from Delft University predicts that entire floating cities will soon be built all over the world. "If we turned off the diesel pumps working day and night to drain the land, two-thirds of the Netherlands would be under water," he said. "We can't afford to keep doing this."

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