What Myan­mar could learn from Sin­ga­pore about ur­ban wa­ter man­age­ment

The Myanmar Times - - News - AYE SAPAY PHYU ayesa­pay­phyu@mm­times.com

HERE is a vi­sion of Yan­gon’s fu­ture. Its 17 reser­voirs, fed by 8000 kilo­me­tres (5000 miles) of drains, rivers and canals, pro­vide am­ple fresh wa­ter to res­i­dents, while also serv­ing as boat­ing lakes and beach­front at­trac­tions. Its sew­ers and gut­ters are cleared of garbage, its streets are never flooded no mat­ter how hard it rains and wa­ter is drink­able straight from the tap, in the poor­est homes in the city.

Sadly, Yan­gon’s present is noth­ing like this. The vi­sion comes, in fact, from Sin­ga­pore.

Our fel­low ASEAN mem­ber, now so tech­ni­cally ad­vanced, was not al­ways so pros­per­ous. Within liv­ing mem­ory it too had floods, pol­lu­tion and daily col­lec­tions of night soil buck­ets.

As nowa­days in Yan­gon, floods were com­mon be­fore Sin­ga­pore’s in­de­pen­dence in 1965, due to low-ly­ing land, trop­i­cal mon­soon rains and in­ad­e­quate drainage in­fra­struc­ture. But today, though short in­tense bursts of rain over small ar­eas can still cause flash floods, these are lo­calised and typ­i­cally sub­side within an hour.

Sin­ga­pore journalist Toh Yong Chuan, 47, grew up in the 1970s. “There was no sewer in the toi­let. It was a bucket sys­tem. Once a day, we had to take the bucket to a truck that col­lected the buck­ets. When it rained, my re­spon­si­bil­ity was to col­lect wa­ter to wash clothes and the floor. Even today I still have that habit of col­lect­ing rain wa­ter. We use it to wa­ter the plants,” he said.

Since then, the gov­ern­ment in­vested S$2 bil­lion (US$1.4 bil­lion) in drainage in­fra­struc­ture.

“Drainage serves two pur­poses. One is for col­lect­ing wa­ter as a source of sup­ply and the other is to con­vey wa­ter away as fast as pos­si­ble to min­imise flood risks,” said Ge­orge Mad­ha­van, direc­tor of the 3P Net­work Depart­ment of PUB, Sin­ga­pore’s Na­tional Wa­ter Agency.

PUB said care­ful land de­vel­op­ment plan­ning, in­clud­ing set­ting aside drainage re­serve and im­pos­ing plat­form lev­els, had helped bring about the change.

“We try to man­age the rain at source, slow­ing the run-off or re­tain­ing some of it to re­duce the load­ing onto the rivers, canals and drains. We try to im­prove them, deepen them and widen them where pos­si­ble,” said Mr Mad­ha­van.

Ma­rina Bar­rage is one of Sin­ga­pore’s suc­cess sto­ries. In 1977, the city-state launched a 10-year project to clean up the Sin­ga­pore River and Kal­lang Basin, which were heav­ily pol­luted. It re­quired the de­vel­op­ment of hous­ing, and sewage sys­tems, as well as re­set­tle­ment of squat­ters, in­dus­tries and farm­ers and the phas­ing out of pol­lut­ing ac­tiv­i­ties along the river.

In 1978, shortly af­ter the clean-up was com­pleted, then-prime min­ster Lee Kuan Yew en­vis­aged putting a dam across the Ma­rina Chan­nel to form a fresh­wa­ter lake. The Ma­rina Bar­rage and Ma­rina Reser­voir were com­pleted in 2008.

Opened on Oc­to­ber 31 that year, the Ma­rina Bar­rage serves three func­tions: wa­ter sup­ply, flood con­trol and life­style at­trac­tion. Built across the mouth of the Ma­rina Chan­nel, Ma­rina Bar­rage serves as Sin­ga­pore’s 15th reser­voir, and the first in the heart of the city.

In 2006, Sin­ga­pore’s PUB launched the Ac­tive, Beau­ti­ful, Clean Wa­ters Pro­gram to en­hance wa­ter re­sources and re­mind res­i­dents how valu­able these re­sources were.

“We look at our drainage sys­tem and iden­tify ar­eas where we can turn canals and drains into com­mu­nity space. Cur­rently we have over 30 ABC Wa­ters projects that are al­ready com­pleted. PUB, pri­vate de­vel­op­ers and gov­ern­ment agen­cies are work­ing on the pro­gram. The whole idea is to make use of our wa­ter as­sets and turn them into en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sets,” said Mr Mad­ha­van, adding that the public plays an es­sen­tial role in keep­ing the wa­ter bod­ies and en­vi­ron­ment clean.

“Most of us live, work or play in a wa­ter catch­ment. So it is im­por­tant for us keep the catch­ment clean and not lit­ter. We do a lot of out­reach to ed­u­cate the public on the im­por­tance of keep­ing the catch­ment clean and free of lit­ter. We also stress the need for wa­ter con­ser­va­tion. We have the Friends of Wa­ter Pro­gramme, with 6000 mem­bers. There is a lot of work vol­un­teers can do, such as or­gan­is­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, talks and clean-up at the wa­ter bod­ies,” he said.

Sin­ga­pore made wa­ter sup­ply im­prove­ment and en­hance­ment of wa­ter qual­ity look easy, though these are not easy tasks. Can Yan­gon do the same?

Aye Sapay Phyu was a par­tic­i­pant in the Asia Jour­nal­ism Fel­low­ship, a three­month pro­gram in Sin­ga­pore run by Te­masek Foun­da­tion In­ter­na­tional and Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity.

Photo: EPA

Sin­ga­pore polytech­nic stu­dents op­er­ate a “dengue-fight­ing” mini tank in a drain in Sin­ga­pore. The re­mote-con­trolled ma­chine dis­penses in­sec­ti­cide at mos­quito-breed­ing sites like drains and canals.

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