The Netherlands

Case study description

Cities involved: Itteren and Borgharen in the municipality of Maastricht
Affected Population: 2,800 inhabitants
Last flooding episodes: major in 1993 and 1995; minor in 2003 and 2011

An effort to mitigate flood risk in the area was initiated in response to the major 1993 and 1995 flood events. The so called Maaswerken program includes the construction of dikes, natural areas and gravel extraction (the revenues of which are used to finance the works) along the Meuse. Works in the case study area will be concluded by end 2017. The case study area is located in one of the few regions in the Netherlands where traditionally self-reliance has been the norm in case of floods. However, research has shown that the construction of flood defense infrastructure may have undermined the capacity of the local communities to be self-prepared, because they feel safe behind the dikes and the new infrastructure has made it more difficult for locals to interpret the signs of the river. The case study therefore provides an interesting opportunity to assess how different flood risk management approaches interact and play out in terms of community resilience.

Capacity assessment

An assessment of the social capacity to mitigate, prepare and deal with flood events in the communities of Itteren and Borgharen was carried out by means of interviews with citizens and flood management authorities and a survey conducted in June and July 2016. The results of the investigation showed that overall social capacities are fairly well developed in the communities of Itteren and Borgharen. One of the key reasons is that the parishes are for the most part inhabited by families who have lived in the area for generations. This has allowed the inhabitants to build and pass on experience-based knowledge about living with the river and its floods, or ‘high water’ as Dutch people often say (e.g. flood events in 1926, 1993, 1995, and to a minor extent 2003 and 2011). However, the lack of significant flood events over the past twenty years, coupled with the development of flood infrastructure which have altered local flood dynamics, may have rendered part of this community flood knowledge obsolete. For instance, knowledge about how long it would take for a flood to reach certain parts of the villages may be outdated. Other knowledge remains useful, though, such as simple actions to carry out when water reaches the doorsteps.

At the same time, the research revealed that the motivation of citizens to prepare for floods has decreased since the last major floods in the 1990s and is currently very low due to an increased sense of safety. This is primarily attributable to the new flood infrastructure (essentially dikes and works for widening the river bed) and the modern dependence on the government to mitigate flood risk; and the absence of major floods in the past twenty years. The ability of citizens to proactively participate to activities related to flood risk mitigation and preparedness (e.g. public debates on flood protection measures, preparedness actions) is also low due to the combination of diffuse low motivation and people’s own perception of having insufficient knowledge about flood risk mitigation to contribute meaningfully to any activity. In light of the analysis, an important point of vulnerability of the communities has been identified in the paradox between people’s confidence on their own experience-based knowledge and perception of high safety, and the reality of potentially very different dynamics of an unlikely but not impossible flood event.

Accordingly, a number of possible participatory activities to address this point have been designed in interaction with the local communities and authorities.

Pilot Actions


The whole participatory process involves six steps, from identifying, selecting and planning the specific actions to the actual implementation and subsequent evaluation. The researchers identified a number of actions aimed at addressing the knowledge and motivation gap. These suggested actions, along with the social capacity assessment, were then discussed with the concerned stakeholders (active citizens and authorities). The concerned stakeholders were first approached with an email which included a summary of the social capacity assessment; questions for feedback; and a request for a phone interview. The telephone interview gave the possibility to discuss the stakeholders’ view on the capacity assessment in more detail, as well as to collect their opinion on the participatory actions to implement in the villages. This led to the selection of the setup for two actions. After that, an online survey was sent to those citizens that already participated in a CAPFLO survey in June 2016 (with the request to share the link to the survey to also other citizens), asking for the citizens’ preferences about the content of the selected pilot actions.

A description of the pilot actions can be found in the section below.


Pilot actions Dutch case study – Itteren and Borgharen, Maastricht on the Meuse river basin

Organizer: Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
When: May 7th and 8th, 2017
Location: Borghare, Maastricht

As the last major Meuse floods affecting Itteren and Borgharen occurred more than twenty years ago, local citizens feel safe with the new water infrastructure and are not really motivated to contribute to flood risk mitigation. Yet, newly built infrastructure cannot fully remove the risk of an unlikely but possible flood, whilst citizens themselves can act to reduce the probability of loss and damage. Consequently, two participatory actions were organized in the parish of Borgharen, Maastricht with the objective of raising awareness, increasing local flood risk knowledge and motivating citizens to be prepared against flooding.

Pilot action 1: sharing experience about floods and understanding contemporary flood risk

The first pilot action took place on Sunday May 7th and included two participatory activities. One activity comprised a walk through Borgharen during which local inhabitants shared stories about their experience with past floods and representatives of the local water board and the Consortium Grensmaas illustrated the flood protection measures. The second activity consisted of a discussion session about contemporary flood risk with presentations by  representatives of public authorities. 28 participants joined the walk, during which several locations in Borgharen were visited, and pictures taken by citizens during the floods (e.g. flooded house, floodplain) were shown. The discussion session included a picture and video exhibition and was attended by 35 citizens, including 7 authority representatives from Rijkswaterstaat, the safety region Zuid-Limburg, Maastricht municipality, the water board Limburg, and the province of Limburg. Participants found the walk more interesting than the discussion session as it provided a direct and informal platform for sharing knowledge. The discussion session did not address all the issues the researchers expected to cover.

Pilot action 2: raising awareness and understanding about floods and flood risk among local youth

On Monday May 8th, the second pilot action took place at the elementary school of Borgharen. Two groups of school students met with local senior citizens to learn about the citizens’ experience with floods. The students, who were first given a class on floods, were invited to play the role of journalists and as such asked to prepare and pose questions to the seniors. Two discussion sessions of one hour each took place with children of different age: one group included 17 kids of 9-10 years old and the other group included 30 children of 11-12 years old. The students were enthusiastic about the initiative and reported to have learned something new. The teachers found the initiative interesting and useful, and expressed the interest to repeat it in the future.