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The Zuiderzee floods

We must leave!

"We have lived for centuries on our small island Schokland in the Zuiderzee, doing our daily fishing and handcraft. We are a few small villages, with churches in the centre. But terrible floods are threatening us always, and now, in 1859, our government wants us to leave. Only a few people are allowed to stay behind to work at the lighthouse. We have lost our fight against the water."

Schokland Island on historical map

Family at Schokland late 19th century, source wikipedia

One of my children died!

"It's 1916, we now live on the shores of the Zuiderzee. We thought we were safe, but a devastating storm hit our coast, our villages and harbours. The water flooded large areas, and killed hundreds of people. Our houses and industries are destroyed. We’ll probably need to leave again. In these parts of the land, the water is our foe."

Flooding Schellingwoude 1916

Flooding Schokland 1916

A bold decision

"I, Cornelis Lely, engineer and Minister of Water Management, have a bold plan. If we don't do something about that Zuiderzee, we will lose ever more land. We need to fight her, to keep her out. I made grand plan! We will build a large dyke enclosing the Zuiderzee, and turn it into an inland freshwater lake. The rough waters are behind us, and we will create new land for our people!"

In addition to taming the wild Zuiderzee, the Netherlands needed to produce more food, and new agriculture land was more than welcome. The sea clay in these new polders would be excellent for agriculture. Both reasons justified the immense amount of money needed to develop this project. Of course, many workers were happy to have a job for years!

Original plan by Lely, source: Wikipedia

Law from 14. June 1918 for closing and land reclamation of the Zuiderzee

We start to fight back!

"I am a worker here at the Noordoostpolder, I come from a family of farmers, but there is no future on the farm for me. I have to work hard. It is a tough job, but I have to persist in order to get a farm. But now that we have built the dykes, we will gain new land! The work is hard. Hundreds of men work from sunrise until dawn to make the ditches. The engineers have planned and calculated; now we need to turn it into reality."