Friday, October 9, 2009

Dutch treat and Dutch consensus

The formal name of the country is Kingdom of the Netherlands. The country is more popularly known to the world as Holland and the people who live there are called Dutch. This is one of the trick questions in the elimination round of the geography quiz bee when I was in grade school. What do you call the citizens of Holland? Answer: Holes! The country is known as one of the most liberal and tolerant in Europe if not the whole world. The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy with strong democratic and independent foundations. Queen Beatrix is the sovereign. But Dutch monarchs are never crowned, they have an investiture ceremony akin to a Presidential inaugural in a republic. It is no surprise since Holland used to be a republic for over 200 years. Because of their history, the Dutch have a society characterized by consensus. The Dutch Catholic Church is fiercely independent, one branch consists of the Utrecht Union (independent of Rome) and the one still with Rome was a major cause of John Paul II's and now Benedict XVI's headaches. Dutch Protestants are independent and go against what Protestants usually think. All these in the most secular society in the world.

The Dutch come to mind in the Pinoy psych now that TS Ondoy (Ketsana) and TY Pepeng (Parma) deluged and continues to deluge northern Philippines. Several commentators and op ed columnists, editorials and blog posts have suggested that we Pinoys do a Dutch in solving our flood woes. However this is reason why I had to introduce the Dutch in this blog post. They are a unique society in the whole world. Among Filipino societies, I suppose it is the Ivatans that may be most like the Dutch in terms of natural hazards awareness.

Sixty percent (60%) of Dutch people live below sea level and they live in reclaimed areas called "polders" some of which were reclaimed 1ooo years ago when Holland was becoming a nation. This is the reason why the whole national and cultural identity of the Dutch is formed by adapting to flooding. The "Hans Brinker and his finger in the dike" tale is best known among Anglophones (Because the story is a 19th century American tale!) The geographer Jared Diamond describes Dutch society in having a "polder mentality".

The windmills and canals are evidence of their polder lifestyle. BTW the windmills now are more of a tourist draw than anything else.

The Dutch have the highest awareness of environmental issues and disasters in the world. Though with a large middle class in their society, the Dutch insist that their rich do not live on higher ground in the polders while the poor live on the lower ground. All rich or poor live on the same level. They also say that you have to get along with your enemy since he/she may be responsible for operating the pump in your polder.

For the Dutch, your neighbour's survival is yours and yours is his/her's. There are no gated communities in Holland say the Dutch. The whole of society is gated against the water and not from each otehr.

In the Philippines taking cue from the Americans, the rich tend to isolate themselves from the rest of society in gated communities. The rich think that by "defending" themselves from the less wealthy live the fantasy that they can remain unaffected by environmental concerns troubling the rest of the hoi polloi. Ondoy conveniently flushed out that mentality!

Jared Diamond must be paraphrased from his opus "Collapse"

"The Filipino wealthy in their gated communities found that they merely bought the privilege of being the last to drown."

So far the op ed gurus are looking at the engineering aspects of the Dutch solution. But like the Louisianians after Katrina realised, even if the engineering solutions mitigate the problem while the social problems fester, recovery would be impossible. To this day, New Orleans hasn't recovered. Around the corner from Bourbon Street many of the old touristy spots are boarded still. Louisiana's officials have approached the Dutch for solutions.

Dutch has a lot a teach us about THE MAJOR SOLUTION to our flooding problems require strong political will (which the Dutch have in democratic consensus). It inevitably that social engineering and not just engineering is required. The last flood that sank the Netherlands was on February, 1 1953 when a winter storm breached the dikes and killed about 2,000 rich, middle class and poor people. The Netherlands embarked on a 30 year and costly effort to build their flood defences. The Dutch had to give up what is lost and to defend what can be saved.

Thus today the odds that the whole country will sink is 1:10,000. Even this worries the Dutch still!

I know this since I visited Holland once and my Dutch colleagues told me about this. My environmental science institute in UP is now headed by a Holland trained environmental scientist Dr Rene Rollon. He observes that the Dutch mentality about environmental hazards is even evident in daily life.

First the Dutch are particular about punctuality. My Rotterdam based colleague says that this is important in being at the right place at the right time when there is a flood threat.

Also the Dutch are so preoccupied of getting value for money. Rene says that the public wants to see results fast when their tax money is spent. Nobody has complained about the cost of the flood defences.

I haven't lived in Holland but just spent a week there, but Rene says the Dutch have no culture of complaining!

And lastly, the term Dutch treat is true. In a dinner date, unless you agree beforehand, each party is expected to share the tab evenly. This is real democratic consensus! They are also frugal. I believe that you won't see Queen Beatrix eating at a dinner costing thousands of dollars/euros without a worthy cause. And her being a Queen is not a worthy enough reason. Tell that to the Presidential Palace apologists by the flood prone Pasig River.

So when the Pinoy blurbs say that UP geology prof Dr CP David says that people in the Marikina Valley floodplain had 9 hours to move out, would this work if we Pinoys don't have that sense of time the Dutch have?

So maybe we should give Holland more importance for its contribution to world culture and science than the Marca Pina Keso de Bola we eat every Noche Buena!

The Dutch teach everyone on the planet that truism if you are on boats. One hand for the boat and one hand for the other person!

And BTW while the Dutch are slightly peeved at the American origin of the Boy and the Dike story, they are practical enough to erect a statue about it in order to get the American tourist dollars!


Anonymous said...
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Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

To hell with the Dutch! They are the biggest state sponsors of terrorism coddling that gang in Utrecht.

blackshama said...


Well building dikes DOES HAVE ITS DOWNSIDES. We call that JOSE MARIA SISON!