The Netherlands is bounded by the North Sea to the north and west, Germany to the east, and Belgium to the south.
If the Netherlands were to lose the protection of its dunes and dikes, the most densely populated part of the country would be inundated (largely by the sea but also in part by the rivers).
The largest water-control schemes were carried out in the second half of the 19th century and in the 20th century, when steam pumps and, later, electric or diesel pumps came into use.
Despite government-encouraged emigration after World War II, which prompted some 500,000 persons to leave the country, the Netherlands is today one of the world’s most densely populated countries.
Initially, man power and horsepower were used to drain the land, but they were later replaced by windmills, such as the mill network at Kinderdijk-Elshout, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.If the peat soil was washed away by the sea or dug away by humans (for the production of fuel and salt), lakes were created.Many of these were reclaimed in later centuries (as mentioned above), while others now form highly valued outdoor recreational areas.The capital is land, the result of a process of careful water management dating back to medieval times.Along the coasts, land was reclaimed from the sea, and, in the interior, lakes and marshes were drained, especially alongside the many rivers.The Dutch economy is open and generally internationalist in outlook.With Belgium and Luxembourg, the Netherlands is a member of the economic union, which in the 1950s and 1960s served as a model for the larger European Economic Community (EEC; now embedded in the European Union [EU]), of which the Benelux countries are members.Prostitution, “soft-drug” (marijuana and hashish) use, and euthanasia are all legal but carefully regulated in the Netherlands, which was also the first country to legalize same-sex marriage.This relative independence of outlook was evident as early as the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Dutch rejected monarchical controls and took a relatively enlightened view of other cultures, especially when they brought wealth and capital to the country’s trading centres.The Netherlands is also a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and it plays host to a number of international organizations, especially in the legal sector, such as the International Court of Justice.The Dutch reputation for tolerance was tested in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, when an increase in immigration from non-European Union countries and a populist turn in politics resulted in growing nationalism and even xenophobia, marked by two race-related political assassinations, in 20, and the government’s requirement that immigrants pass an expensive ‘‘integration’’ test before they enter the country.