Vital and vulnerable functions

The Delta Programme focuses special attention on vital and vulnerable functions, i.e., functions that are crucial with respect to disaster control in the event of a flood, or functions that when flooded could entail serious damage to people, the environment, or the economy. The Delta Decision on Spatial Adaptation states that the national government is responsible for ensuring that the flood protection of national vital and vulnerable functions will have been improved by no later than 2050.

In many cases, governments and businesses are unaware of flood risks. As a result, aspects of flood risk management are often overlooked in the selection of locations, the planning, and the construction method used for vital and vulnerable functions. For example, flood risks are (unintentionally) increased by the current tendency in spatial policy to locate vital objects such as electricity substations out of sight.

In order to effectively tackle this issue, the sectors need to be aware of flood risks, and take them into account in their operational management and (replacement) investments. They are gradually getting there. The approach is focused on the following functions/components; this is where the potential impact of a flood will be most severe.


The lack of protection of these vital and vulnerable functions may have serious consequences. This is illustrated by situations that have arisen abroad. For example, in 2012 the infrastructure in the United States was massively disrupted by hurricane Sandy. One month after the hurricane, the total damage was calculated at 42 billion dollars. Recent examples are hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria that wreaked havoc on vital and vulnerable infrastructure in the summer of 2017. For an extended period of time electricity was unavailable, and roads were unusable. In the Netherlands the consequences of climate change have not yet resulted in serious disasters, yet smaller calamities involving vital and vulnerable functions do constitute cause for concern and for taking preparations. Such calamities include, e.g., traffic delays caused by waterlogging, wires and cables being torn loose by the root balls of falling trees during a storm; inundated tunnels and roads blocking the arrival of emergency services. Questions that will receive priority, focusing on the strategy pertaining to national vital and vulnerable functions are: what do we do in the event that an extreme storm or extreme downpour causes urban flooding or waterlogging? How can we prepare ourselves even better, in addition to the preventative measures implemented under the flood risk management policy?

Inter-ministerial agreements

The Delta Decision on Spatial Adaptation (September 2014) comprises agreements (pdf, 17 MB) to improve the flood protection of thirteen national vital and vulnerable functions, with the aim of having the Netherlands water-resilient by no later than 2050. The agreements are categorised into three steps, that tie in with the system used in the Delta Decision on Spatial Adaptation, and together constitute the strategy underpinning the agreements:

  1. Analysis: analysis of the vulnerability. Together with the sectors concerned, the Ministries responsible were to provide insight into the vulnerability and chain dependency by no later than 2015 (with the exception of waste water and the chemical industry, for which the deadline is 2017).
  2. Ambition: the translation of the analysis into a broadly supported ambition and strategy featuring concrete goals. Before 2020, the Ministries responsible will have policy and supervision in place in order to achieve the ambition agreed upon, wherever necessary safeguarded by agreements with the sectors and/or regulations.
  3. Action: before 2050, the sectors will have taken measures, including factoring in flood risks in their investment decisions.

The National Vital and Vulnerable Functions Strategy project group ensures progress in the implementation. A list of project group members is available via the helpdesk. The House of Representatives has been informed about the progress made with respect to the knowledge and insights collected (Analysis), the formulation of policy ambitions (Ambition), and setting down the policy ambitions (Action) through annual progress reports.

The infographic below shows the progress made as per mid-2017.


In September 2017, the interconnected ambition levels for the thirteen national, vital and vulnerable functions were set down. They are presented in the third progress report (pdf, 944 kB) on the approach to national vital and vulnerable functions. Furthermore, an overview of vital and vulnerable functions has been compiled, which can be used as a basis for tackling this component of the stress test (pdf, 3.4 MB).

Regional level

A successful national approach also needs regional governments. After all, they are responsible for embedding strategies into spatial planning (zoning plans), for granting permits, and for enforcing sectoral legislation. Furthermore, it is up to the regional governments to set down their own ambitions regarding the water resilience of their vital and vulnerable functions. For a number of functions, the delineation between national and regional vital and vulnerable functions still needs to be outlined. This requires sectoral know-how about the operation of the grids and objects. Several regions, including Zeeland, Noord-Holland, Utrecht, and Overijssel, have already embarked on mapping out the required knowledge.

More information on the approach implemented in these regions is provided on this page.


Thematic meetings

Vital and Vulnerable Pilots

Vitaal en kwetsbaar - Delta Programme scenarios