After the flood come torrents of abuse

THE Libe cafe at Boven-Hardinxveld may look a little upmarket with its fancy purple counter tops and colour co-ordinated modern fittings, but the smell of chip fat and fried eggs gives it away as your average working class greasy spoon, made just that bit more plush by Dutch affluence. Despite the fancy appearance, the Libe is still the kind of place where locals from shipyards and factories gather before work to suck down black coffee and moan about the government. And during these days of floods, with no work to go to, sitting at thecafe and moaning is what the customers of the Libe do best.

Boven-Hardinxveld, a 30-minute drive east of Rotterdam and on the westernmost edge of the flood danger zone, was supposed to have been evacuated.

About 4,000 people heeded orders to leave, taking with them their furniture and, in some cases, their curtains and blinds. But 400 others refused to go and fought the authorities for their right to stay. When angry and hungry, they all shuffle off to theLibe. Looking out of the big window at the front of the cafe which sits on top of a dike with a grandstand view of the swollen river, one man on Friday morning took a sip of bitter coffee and shook his head. "Screw the government. I know this river better than them,'' he said angrily. "Nothing is going to happen to the people who live on the dike.

"If the idiots in government are so worried about us, why didn't they strengthen the dikes before this? Why do they wait until trouble comes to panic and then bother us with their stupid decisions?''

The outburst was greeted with nods of approval from his fellow refuseniks in the cafe. Time may yet prove them right.

The emergency in the Netherlands appears to be over. The water rose, some towns got soaked, but the dikes held and last night the Interior Minister, Hans Dijkstal, gave 170,000 people permission to go back home from 8am today, leaving just the few thousand people from around the Boven-Hardinxveld district awaiting permission to return. But as the floodwaters recede, they are leaving behind not just weakened dikes, but angry citizens, looking for someone to blame for their week of trials and tribulations.

Dutch newspapers last week were full of stories with headlines such as "Searching for Scapegoats''. People waiting in evacuation centres and working on the dikes during the worst days of the crisis never missed an opportunity to offer a theory for who was at fault.

The main target of popular anger has been government bureaucrats and over-zealous environmentalists, who have led a campaign to delay plans to reinforce thousands of kilometres of dikes and canals.

The struggle for dry feet is as old as the Netherlands itself. More than half the country and two-thirds of the population are below sea level. Much of that land has been reclaimed from the sea, beginning in the13th century, although the building of dikes goes back to 500 BC. Today a complex network of dikes and canals divides the country into intricate patterns of ditches and barriers, which separate the lowlying lands from rivers and, especially, from seawater.

But in the 1990s the threat is no longer the North Sea but the spring thaws in the Alps which pour into the Rhine and washacross Europe, gathering force and filth. The Germans and French have shortened the course of rivers feeding into the Netherlands, contributing to the problem. In 1993, after the last time the waters of the Rhine put eastern areas of the country under water, the debate between those recommending higher dikes and those who saw the plans of the engineers as a threat to the country's wetlands reached fever pitch.

The engineers argued that "safety comes first'' but the environmentalists, whose voiceswere echoed at government level, countered that taller and wider dikes would cut across the country like giant airport runways. Wetlands would be filled in and houses bulldozed.

Public opinion was sharply divided. In the end, the government decided to continue studying the situation with the aim of reinforcing the dikes in 2008. It is that decision and the political campaign that led up to it that are the targets of popular anger today. In some towns - such as Gorinchem - Green party activists fled the area after they were threatened by people who had been evacuated.

"If the government hadn't listened to those environmentalists then we would not have had to leave our homes,'' said Jan Menting, who was evacuated from Millingen, east of Nijmegen. "There are people who say, `Let's flood the Hague and then we'll see whatthose Greens and liberal ministers think.'''

Sensing the shift in the public mood, the government has been quick to respond. Dutch ministers announced on Thursday that all weakened dikes would be shored up in the next 12 months and all remaining barriers would be strengthened by the year 2000. The plan was greeted with scepticism in the Libe.

"It sounds to me as stupid and unrealistic as the plans to delay,'' said one woman.

Further up river a few days before - when the crisis was at its worst - Ben Wasser stood knee-deep in water and loaded sandbags into a hole in a dike which was in danger of collapse.

"It's too simple to blame the enviromentalists,'' he said. "This is not just a Dutch problem but a European problem. We Dutch can continue to make stronger dikes but unless the surrounding countries stop straightening the rivers, we will still have problems.We are a co-operative people, but we also like to complain.''

Leading article, page 22

Firsthand, page 24

Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments