Fast Facts

Population:
16,296,000
Capital:
Amsterdam; 1,145,000
Area:
41,528 square kilometers (16,034 square miles)
Language:
Dutch, Frisian
Religion:
Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim
Currency:
Euro
Life Expectancy:
78
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $27,200
Literacy Percent:
99
Flag: Netherlands
Map: Netherlands

The Netherlands faces the North Sea in western Europe. The Dutch have a saying: "God made the Earth, but the Dutch made Holland." The first defenses against the sea went up some 800 years ago. Today more than 2,400 kilometers (1,491 miles) of dikes shield the low, flat land—almost half of which lies below sea level—from invasion by the North Sea. Without the existing dikes 65 percent of the country would be flooded daily. Reclamation of the Zuider Zee has created 165,000 hectares (407,700 acres) of arable land—a precious commodity in this densely populated nation. About 60 percent of the country is farmed, with super-efficiency, by just 2 percent of the workforce. Only the U.S. and France export more agricultural goods. Located at the mouth of the Rhine River, the Netherlands is a gateway to northwestern Europe and participates in the European common currency, the euro. Rotterdam, the world's largest and busiest general-cargo port, includes Europoort, a petroleum-refining center.

For several decades natural gas production has subsidized a welfare system. Funds are needed for continued flood-control efforts, for cleaning up the Rhine and the North Sea, and for combating damage to forests by acid rain. The government seeks to cut back on all forms of pollution by up to 90 percent. Tourism is important to the country, and many come to see Dutch art, architecture—and the flowers. Tulips are a major industry, and the Dutch produce billions of bulbs a year—more than any other country.

The Netherlands was a major colonial power, but its largest colonies, Indonesia and Suriname, gained independence decades ago. The islands of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles still form part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

ECONOMY

  • Industry: Agroindustries, metal and engineering products, electrical machinery and equipment, chemicals
  • Agriculture: Grains, potatoes, sugar beets, fruits; livestock
  • Exports: Machinery and equipment, chemicals, fuels, foodstuffs

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

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