The Netherlands Live with Water: Public awareness raising campaign

The Netherlands is at severe risk of coastal and river flooding. It was acknowledged in 2000 that the current water management system based on technological solutions is inadequate, and that more space needs to be made for water. Running in parallel with this risk was a lack of recognition and acknowledgement by citizens of the impacts of these risks. Consequently, in 2003 “The Netherland Live with Water” public awareness campaign was launched (Kazmierczak, A & Carter, J, 2010).

This country level campaign focused on public engagement as an integral aspect of their climate change adaptation strategy. The campaign emphasises the need to store water along both the main national and regional water management systems during times of excessive rainfall or high levels of river discharge. The initiatives is run by national government[1] and highlights efforts the national government, provincial authorities and water boards are undertaking across the Netherlands to keep it safe and dry. The campaign also gave advice to residents about what they can do to reduce the impacts of flooding. The campaign has been assessed by independent reviews and has been promoted as a best practice example at an international level. One of the key reasons for its success was the high profile spokesman for the campaign; the Netherlands favourite weather presenter. 

Key aims of “The Netherlands Live with Water” campaign (Kazmierczak, A & Carter, J, 2010):

  • To increase the awareness of the water problem, stimulating a sense of urgency without frightening the people;
  • To communicate that a new approach and policy for water management is needed and also the reason why;
  • To increase knowledge of what the new policy (‘giving more room to water’) means and what the consequences will be;
  • To get acceptance of the idea that far-reaching measures are needed now to keep Holland safe in the future, even if these measures have unpleasant personal consequences.

The campaign is integrated as part of three communication campaigns related to raising awareness of the risk of flooding. The other two are “Denk vooruit” (Think ahead), and a collection of risk maps on the internet. Much of the success of this project results from the range of partners involved; the lead Public Administration Authority responsible for the development and implementation of the initiative was the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management. Other partner organisations include the Association of the Provinces of the Netherlands, Association of Dutch Water Boards, Association of Netherlands Municipalities, Ministry of Public Health, Spatial Planning and Environment and Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (Kazmierczak, A & Carter, J, 2010).


Figure 1: Cartoon featuring Peter Timofeeff, a TV weather forecast presenter. The text reads: “With the climate change it gets warmer and wetter”. (Kazmierczak, A & Carter, J, 2010)

The campaign has been a great success and by the end of 2003 82% of the population recognised the social importance of measures to protect against flooding has increased, and 72% endorsed the proposition that this would have to involve ‘giving water more room’ (Ministry of Transport & Public Works, 2004).

[1] The lead authority responsible for the development and implementation of the initiative was the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management.