Damage from rainfall flooding

Name: Matthieu Spekkers (29)
Nationality: Dutch
Promotors: Professor Francois Clemens and Dr Marie-Claire ten Veldhuis (Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Urban Drainage section)
Subject: Urban flooding due to heavy rainfall
Thesis defense: In 2.5


“The Dutch have been fighting against water for ages. One might think that flooding is only caused by water from rivers and seas, but Dutch cities must also regularly deal with flooding problems caused by very heavy rainfall. The water pours into houses because the urban drainage system – sewers for example – cannot handle it. Homeowners are even obliged to insure against this type of flooding. And because this happens a couple of times a year in various places throughout the Netherlands, flooding is causing considerable damage.

My focus is on this kind of flooding, looking for statistical relations between, for example, rainfall and the observed damage. Does the rainfall intensity and volume relate to the amount of damage? I use meteorological information from the KNMI (Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute), as well as claims data from insurance companies.

It’s quite extraordinary that I’m allowed to use insurance data, because insurance companies usually keep such information to themselves, as they are bound by strict privacy rules for their clients and there is intense competition among the various insurance companies. But luckily the insurance companies were willing to share their information with me. The Dutch Association of Insurers provides me with data.

The reason why they are obliging is that they also have many questions regarding the statistical relations I am investigating; for example, they would like to know if climate change will lead to more and higher claims. My research does not incorporate climate change effects, although I might look into that, too. My research results could prove valuable for insurance companies and may also be used to better understand climate change effects.

The results of my current research of rainfall and damage will determine what areas I will investigate in the coming years. I might also try to make comparable statistical relations using the properties of urban drainage systems – the types of sewers for example – or topographical features and flood damage.

I will conduct a detailed case study of Rotterdam, and have a detailed elevation map of that city for this purpose. The Netherlands is relatively flat, but this map shows the heights of all the different objects – even curbs, which can make a difference between being flooded or not. I also have documentation of the different sewer systems in Rotterdam.

I hope that I can also study how flooding caused by heavy rainfall impacts vital infrastructure, like electricity or telephony. There is not much literature and data available on this topic yet, although it is vulnerable to flooding.” 

This week’s roundup of what’s been making news in the Netherlands lately starts with headline-grabbing Geert Wilders and his populist PVV Freedom Party. Recent background checks of PVV MPs are turning up their unseemly pasts. PVV MP Joram van Klaveren had been arrested for drunk driving; MP Marcial Hernandez was detained for head-butting somebody during a drunken bar fight; PVV party spokesman, Hero Brinkman, was cited for punching a bartender when drunk and speeding through police drunk-driving checkpoint; MP Jhim van Bemmel admitted to falsifying documents; MP James Sharpe was forced to resign his Parliamentary seat because his company, which ran a Hungarian internet dating website, was fined for misleading clients by featuring photos of models instead of the real women interested in finding dates; and finally, MP Eric Lucassen, while serving in the Dutch military, was convicted of having sexual relations with two 17 year-old female soldiers, and later, in civilian life, was repeatedly cited for threatening his neighbours, including throwing a bucket of water on a 72 year-old man, damaging the man’s hearing aid, and urinating in a neighbour’s mailbox.

Elsewhere, the government continued to wield its budgetary knife, with the Dutch Ministry of Defence announcing major job cuts: 10,000 jobs will be cut from the military sector, which currently employs 48,000 soldiers and 21,000 civil servants. The government also announced it would abolish the 1.3 percent tax break offered to investment funds that invest in environmentally-friendly ‘green’ projects. Meanwhile, the PVV Freedom Party, no friend of the nation’s cultural institutions, is demanding the VAT rate on theatre tickets be raised from 6 to 19 percent. Rightwing Wilders calls theatre-going a “leftwing hobby”.
Researchers at the University Medical Centre St. Radboud have discovered a common genetic defect in mentally disabled people whose parents are otherwise healthy. The defect, which affects brain development, is thought to occur in the father’s sperm when DNA is copied. In other news, two sailors were lost at sea when their tug boat capsized in Hoek van Holland harbour. The heavy rains that fell a few weekends ago have been measured: 90 litres of rain fell per square metre from Friday to Sunday. Recently released Dutch crime figures show a shocking increase in robberies and decrease in the likelihood of the thieves being caught and convicted. Some 3000 robberies are committed in the Netherlands annually. A recent national report on patient safety found that the deaths of some 2000 patients per year in Dutch hospitals could be avoided. Similarly, research at Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Centre found that if doctors use a systematic checklist prior to operations the number of deaths fell from 1.5 percent to 0.7 percent, thus saving 3500 patient lives per year. Questions on this checklist include: “Is this the right patient here on the operating table?” Squatters in Holland rejoiced after a court ruling found that a new Dutch anti-squatting law violates the European Treaty on Human Rights. And finally, Saint Nicolas arrived in the Netherlands last week ahead of the biggest Dutch holiday celebration, Sinterklaas, on 5 December. But this wouldn’t be Holland without order, and hence the Netherlands Standards Authority issued guidelines aimed at “a proper and orderly” celebration of Sinterklaas, including the proviso that the candies St Nicolas’ helpers throw to passersby should be “thrown in an arc and from safe distances to avoid injuring children.”

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