Comment on the saying "God created the world except the low countries, which were created by Dutch themselves".
In all history there has been no example to compare with the struggle of the Dutch people in protecting and reclaiming their land from the sea. The saying goes that "God created the world, except the Low Countries, which were created by the Dutch themselves".
For hundreds of years the Dutch have been struggling against the North Sea without pause, protecting and reclaiming their land. From time to time the sea strikes back with tremendous violence, destroying years of work in a single night. But patiently and triumphantly the Dutch people build up again. They must ever build, or the sea will quickly take back their hard-won land.
The Netherlands in 1900 (left), and today (right). Reclamation projects, finished and planned, are shown in red: red line marks the IJsselmeer Dam.
Centuries of war against- the sea have made the Dutch the foremost experts on dredging. Their fleets of dredges, barges, pumps, and tugs are by far the largest in the world. To understand why, we must remember that their method of flood protection and land reclamation has always been to construct dikes. These are embankments, or dams, of sand and clay usually excavated from the bed of sea, lake, or river.
They have become much more ambitious; today, engineers devise ever bolder plans as they work out new ways of protecting and reclaiming the land. The reclamation of the IJsselmeer is one of the most ambitious engineering projects of mankind. It began about 40 years ago and, even with the use of modern machinery, it will take another 11 years to complete.
The IJsselmeer was a great inland sea, which has been cut off by an enclosing dam 20 miles long across its junction with the North Sea. In enclosing this inland sea, which was some 1300 square miles in area, the coastline of Holland was reduced by 200 miles. The old Dutch saying: "shorten the coast, close the coast", has been fulfilled by this long and slender band of clay and sand.
Locks and sluices near each end of the dam allow for the passage of ships and for discharging the water of the new lake formed inside. Within the protection of this enclosing dam, polders, or tracts of dry land, are being formed to give some 800 square miles of new farmland. Each of these polders is enclosed by its own dikes, and the land within is drained by huge drainage channels and collecting drains that lead the water to the pumping stations. The rest of the area will form a freshwater lake acting as a storage basin for water supply for the surrounding countryside.
The main IJsselmeer dam was started only after engineers had carefully investigated the effects of the tides; they continued this work during and after construction. In particular, they had to study the waterfall effect as the tide rushed through the last gaps before closure. The construction required a great and concentrated effort, and a fleet of unprecedented size was used: some 500 vessels of various kinds, including 11 bucket dredgers, 7 suction dredgers, 10 grab dredgers, 18 floating cranes, 215 barges, and 77 tugs.
Until the 1940s, Urk was a tiny fishing island, with only a few acres of farmland, in (he Usselmeer. Then Dutch water engineers set to work. . . .
This immense fleet enabled the construction engineers to master the rapid scouring action of the currents. Unless this work goes on at great speed, the force of the currents would simply wash away the material of the dike as fast as it was deposited.
As the last gap was being filled in, the sea rushed through with great force and in a short time cut into the dam to a depth of 100 feet. The hole in the seabed was getting wider and deeper. The dam was in danger. Nearly the entire fleet concentrated on filling up this last gap. Working night and day, they dumped enormous quantities of clay into the breach. But the currents were so great that most of the clay washed away immediately. There was only one solution: to dump the clay in faster than the sea could carry it away. It seemed an endless task to the engineers, but gradually they filled in the gap. Then the dam began to rise above the waters, and soon it was safe. It ran from shore to shore in an unbroken line 20 miles long, shutting out the sea.
Today, Urk is connected lo the mainland by the rolling fields of the North-east Polder—120,000 acres of new farmland created by drainage in 1941-46.