Why does Flanders suffer from water shortages?

The warm and dry summers of the past few years have made it all too apparent, the water reserves in our region have little if any buffer to cope with a sharp increase in demand or a prolonged period of dry weather.  Katrien Smet of Flemish Environment Agency explains “We forgot that we are in a water-stressed region”. 

Flanders has water reserves of 1,500 M³ per person per annum. This is “very little” compared to international norms. Countries or regions with less than 1,000M³ per person, per annum are said to be suffering from “a severe shortage of water”.  

Our northern neighbour The Netherlands, for example, has 5,000 M³ of water per person, per annum available.  

Large areas of The Netherlands are very low lying and more over the country is situated in the delta of 3 major rivers, the Rhine, the Scheldt and the Maas. Flanders only has the Scheldt. Furthermore Flanders is a densely populated region with a lot of ribbon development. Our chaotic town planning has mean that large areas are built on or tarmacked or concreted over.     

14.5% of the surface area of Flanders is covered in this way and the percentage is rising. The result of this is that rather than trickling down into the groundwater, rainwater ends up in rivers, streams and the sewers.  

The three factors (population, percentage of land built on or covered over and no large rivers) plus climate change create a recipe for water supply issues.

Leuven University’s (KUL) Professor Patrick Willems told VRT News that “We get between 800 and 900 mm/M² of rain per annum. As a result of global warming we experience more extreme weather conditions such as heavy showers of rain, more water at once, and at the same time dry periods that are even dryer. So on the one hand there is more flooding while on the other there is an increase danger of water shortages”.   

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