A 2016 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that by 2050, large parts of Asia may experience grave water shortages due to various reasons due to economic factors, population growth and world climate change. To avoid this problem, or at least alleviate it, Asian countries can take a leaf out of Singapore’s transformational strategies undertaken over the past decades since its founding.
Today, the island-state has evolved from a thirsty developing nation left to fend for itself to a prime example of sound water management amidst other effective policies that have made Singapore one of the top destinations for aspiring immigrants.
Placing strong emphases on water supply, resource management, long-term infrastructural planning, a strong political will to implement even unpopular but crucial water plans, effective laws and regulations and eagle-eyed oversight of Singapore’s entire water supply system by the government’s Public Utilities Board (PUB), Singaporeans are assured that they will never have to thirst again as long as the government keeps a tight grip on the island’s faucet.
Not Taking Water For Granted
One the rare few that considers water supply in totality, Singapore plans its water use on aspects such as water quality, quantity, production and management costs.
In its 1972 Water Master Plan, it was highlighted that it should develop a water resource portfolio made up of diverse sources to ensure current and future water needs are not just met but secured for the long-term as well. Besides collecting rainwater and importing water from neighbouring Malaysia, Singapore has also developed water sources from recycling used water and desalinated water from the surrounding seas. This, in turn, resulted in a robust and secure water supply system known by the public as the Four National Taps.
Rainwater that falls on the main island is redirected to its seventeen reservoirs that also serve as beautiful waterscapes in the city. Known as water catchment areas, the government is planning to increase the amount of catchment of rainwater that falls on the main island from 65 per cent to 90 per cent. The “Active, Beautiful and Clean Waters” programme, launched in 2006 to build water catchment infrastructure that also beautifies its surroundings, also helps slow water runoff, increase catchment area and improve rainwater quality by using solutions such as bio-retention ponds, floating wetlands and bioswales.
Singapore’s three desalination plants have been meeting about twenty-five per cent of the island’s water needs, and two more are in the works so that they can supply up to 30 per cent of its water needs.
From as early as the 1970s, the Singapore government had been mulling over the feasibility of recycling used water. Having opened five water treatment plants using sophisticated technologies to produced the ultra-clean and top-grade recycled water called NEWater, they now meet up to forty per cent of the water needs. As the pride and joy of Singapore, there is a plan for NEWater to increase its water supply to a whopping fifty-five per cent by 2060.
The last national tap related to water imported from neighbouring Malaysia via giant pipes that stretch across the borders. Under an existing agreement between the two governments signed in 1962, Malaysia agreed to sell water to Singapore who has also been treating some of its water at lower costs. As this agreement expires in 2061, Singapore has been taking steps to become completely self-sufficient in the water supply by then.
Tight Grip On The National Faucet
By 2060 and growing at today’s rate, Singapore’s demand for water could be double of today’s 430 million gallons per day. To put pressure on it and control the increase, PUB has designed detailed and holistic policies that involve pricing water use, conservation measures and education of the public.
While acknowledging that water should remain affordable so that everyone can enjoy access to clean water, the country’s leaders were also aware that the public ought to be conditioned to not abuse water. Introduced in 1991, the tax attempts to put a price on water based on economic efficiency, pegging its price to the desalination costs to reflect the higher price of more expensive alternative sources. In 2017 the Singapore government announced that it will increase water prices by 30 per cent to address the increasing costs of water supply.
The PUB has also been utilising engineering solutions nationally to promote and ensure water conservation.
Since 2015, organisations that use more than 60,000 cubic metres of water annually are required to keep an eye on their usage and report water management plans annually to PUB. The agency also has funds and certifications to encourage the installation of water-efficient measures by building owners.
The government also educates the public on water demand management. Good water conservation and inculcating good attitude towards water use is part of the syllabus for school children. The public education strategies do not neglect the need for foreign construction workers and domestic helpers to be aware as well. Campaigns like the PUB’s 10-Litre Challenge that strives to get the citizenry to reduce their daily usage by 10 litres further educates them how important it is to save water.
By ensuring every drop counts through a comprehensive set of instruments, strategies and policies, Singapore holds a stellar record for its development and management for such a vital resource, a prime example for its regional counterparts to follow.