Dutch emergency team assists with Kazakhstan floods

Interview with Prof. Fredrik Huthoff (republished from IHE Delft)

27 May 2024 by The Water Diplomat

After two weeks of heavy flooding which took place at the beginning of April this year, Kazakhstan requested assistance from the Dutch government. The Dutch Disaster Risk Reduction and Surge Support (DRRS) team called up water experts from various disciplines to help alleviate the emergency situation in the Central Asian country. IHE Delft Associate Professor Fredrik Huthoff was among them and flew to Astana to lead the emergency response.

When did the call come to drop everything and rush to Kazakhstan?

In mid-April, I was in Mozambique rounding off another disaster response mission following last year’s Cyclone Freddy. There I led the DRRS team that was mapping actions to form an integrated plan to increase flood preparedness and resilience in the Zambézia Province. From there, I was planning to travel to Kazakhstan anyway for a water conference in Almaty when the call came to lead the DRRS team on its latest mission.

Why did the Kazakh authorities need assistance from the Disaster Risk Reduction and Surge Support team?
The disaster in Kazakhstan was a perfect storm, as multiple mechanisms were at play. Extreme rain, a dam break, and meltwater from the Ural Mountains simultaneously contributed to the huge disaster. Excessive quantities of water came from all directions as the extreme weather events also affected multiple river basins.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called it the worst disaster the country has seen in over 80 years. Over 120,000 people had to be evacuated from the affected regions. When I arrived, I met with officials at the ministries and the Kazakh hydrometeorological service to help decide on the right course of action that match the scale and urgency of the problem, and the resources and capacities on the ground. It was commendable to see how Kazakh authorities were working around the clock and were open to collaboration with us to make sure the best possible actions were being taken.  And you have to see that in the context of the emergency that was, and still is, unfolding at that very time. It is simply overwhelming, these floods are taking place on a scale has hardly ever been seen before in the world.       

The flooding affected almost a third of the country — Kazakhstan is the size of the Netherlands, Germany, France and Spain altogether, and then times two! And flood waters had not even reached their highest point.

What could you do to help?
The authorities were under enormous pressure in an ongoing situation. Having the DRRS team on site with its technical backup in the Netherlands reassured the Kazakh officials as they took decisions on how to proceed.

One concrete example on the first day, the rising water levels were threatening to flood the city of Atyrau. The Kazakh authorities were already digging a channel along the path of a former tributary to alleviate the high-water situation before it reached the city. We sat down with their technical team in the Kazakh Space Agency, in their situation room in a high-security location. Our team had technical support back in the Netherlands, which was able to make the calculations that confirmed that this action would indeed alleviate the situation.

With the peak expected hit at the end of April, Huthoff’s team were asked to help map the water flows, collaborate on emergency actions and to draft a long-term plan to mitigate future flood disasters.

How can the work of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Surge Support team impact other disasters?

The plan we are drafting could act as a blueprint for extreme weather events in other parts of the world. Climate change will mean similar extreme events are more likely in the future and the lessons from Kazakhstan could help other countries develop their own future flood management procedures and methods.


The Dutch Disaster Risk Reduction and Surge Support team is managed by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency. The team is made up of emergency response experts in various disciplines who can be deployed at short notice anywhere in the world at the request of foreign governments.

Contact block Fredrik Huthoff | IHE Delft Institute for Water Education (un-ihe.org)