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Stakeholder responses to future flood management ideas in the Rhine River Basin: nature or neighbour in Hell’s Angle

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One professor says ‘it will be dryer’, the other one says ‘it will be wetter’.

We all have mobile telephones so we know it when the water comes.

The social cohesion of this community will be lost forever.

When you’re not bought out you’ll be the real victim.

We like to have a nature reserve area around here.


This article identifies responses of stakeholders to future management of the Rhine River Basin, notably to the plan Rhine In The Future. This plan foresees the construction of a bypass between the rivers Rhine and IJssel, the Green River. The Green River would be a nature reserve area that can be flooded during high water discharges. The inhabitants of the area would be permanently relocated. Their defence of stakes will be coloured by patterns of acting and thinking that belong to respectively postmodernity, modernity and pre-modernity. These different colourings show in negotiation skills, levels of organisations, alertness, power positions, and access to local and outside resources. Most local stakeholders appreciate the postmodern environmentalism that leads to the greening of river management, but regret the loss of their strong, pre-modern, social cohesion. Whereas they consider national interests in a rather balanced way, they doubt the necessity of the bypass for safety reasons. They have confidence in financial compensations for relocation, but will negotiate about these compensations with skill and determination. Their tactics will be reinforced by collective efforts that stem from their social cohesion.

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This article is part of the project on Social and Institutional Responses to Climate Change and Climatic Hazards (SIRCH) conducted in 1998–2001. The SIRCH project is a collaboration of the Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, Oxford University, Middlesex University, University of Seville and University of Madrid. The SIRCH-project is financed through the European Commission, DG 12.

The British partners concentrate on future management of flood and drought risk in the Thames River basin. The Spanish partners study the same for droughts in the lower Guadalquivir River basin. The Dutch look at the same for floods in the Rhine-Meuse River basin. They have studied institutional aspects and risk perceptions at the national level, and scenarios of future climate that may create higher flood risks.

The present study concerns perceptions and responses of local stakeholders to future changes in river basin management. The stakeholders contributed with care to the research in lengthy interviews, telephone calls, follow-up contacts and casual meetings. The research was discussed in half-yearly SIRCH meetings, two seminars at Delft Hydraulics and scientific conferences abroad. Along with gratitude to the responding stakeholders and participants of meetings, thanks are expressed to Alison Gilbert, Nicolien van der Grijp, Darley Jose, Xander Olsthoorn and Richard Tol for their comments on earlier drafts.

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Correspondence to Peter E. van der Werff.

Appendix: Methodology

Appendix: Methodology

Data were collected through study of documents, holding of interviews (see Table 9), enquiries on the phone, and observations in the Green River area and Helhoek. Interactions were maintained with Delft Hydraulics, the pressure group Groessen in Protest (GRIP), the students’ project of Liemers College in Zevenaar, and members of the European SIRCH project.

Table 9 Number of interviews held

The study applies the system-oriented approach, by looking at interactions between stakeholders that create the commonalities in the language and the cultural cement that bind the actors. This approach contrasts with actor-oriented stakeholder studies that collect data of individual actors as if they were isolated units, and statistically process these data at an aggregate level. To be certain, the present study includes divergent perspectives and interests of individual stakeholders and stakeholder groups, but does not regard such divergence as the only part of social reality that counts (Van der Werff and Gupta 2001).

Nearly all cited texts were given in response to questions asked by the researcher. Direct speech is used in order to emphasise the subjective, though shared, story lines that were found to predominate in Green River area. The citations in spoken language indicate the thinking of local stakeholders about how to deal with future management alternatives.

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van der Werff, P.E. Stakeholder responses to future flood management ideas in the Rhine River Basin: nature or neighbour in Hell’s Angle. Reg Environ Change 4, 145–158 (2004).

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