In 2022, it was dry for a long time and in 2018, 2019 and in spring 2020 it was also dry. The year 2022 went into the books as the sunniest and driest year in many decades. In the future, we may face such dry summers more often, as climate change increases the likelihood of drought. We need to prepare well for this change.

Read more about drought, desiccation and water shortages below. On the other pages in this dossier, you will find more information on how much drier it is getting and what the consequences are. You can also read about what we can do to mitigate drought.

What causes drought?

Drought occurs if the volume of water evaporating exceeds precipitation volumes. This is referred to as a precipitation deficit. Springs and summers are becoming particularly drier, and the probability of prolonged drought is growing. However, many uncertainties remain with respect to future droughts, as drought is difficult to predict. The term “drought” generally covers situations in which water shortages may cause problems.

What causes water shortages?

Water shortages can develop when the demand for water exceeds the supply of water available in an area. In the Netherlands, we have three sources of fresh water: rainwater, groundwater, and water entering our country via the rivers. This water is used for a wide range of purposes: drinking water; farming; nature management; the shipping sector; leisure activities; and cooling and process water in industry or the energy sector. Water demand goes up in warm and dry weather. If this concurs with a high precipitation deficit and sharply declining river discharges, the water supply will not suffice to meet the water demand. This can result in water shortages.

What is the difference between drought and dehydration?

Drought is not the same as dehydration. Drought is defined as an exceptionally dry period that deviates from a normal situation and that lasts a long time. The soil then requires more water than is available. Drought is often temporary, unlike dehydration, which is a structural problem. Dehydration means that the supply of good quality groundwater is insufficient to preserve the natural environment. This is largely the result of years of drainage by various users, which causes groundwater levels to fall.

How can we combat drought?

The Delta Plan for Freshwater Supply is intended to improve the Netherlands’ resilience against drought and water shortages, and to ensure that the Netherlands will be water resilient and climate proof by 2050. The latter goal is being pursued in collaboration with the Spatial Adaptation Delta Programme. It involves the implementation of measures by government authorities, businesses, and water consumers at the national, regional, and local levels.

The other pages in this dossier on drought provide more information on how much drier the climate will become and what the impact will be. In addition, they set out what we can do to restrict drought.