The En­vi­ron­ment:

Stand­ing in line, sur­rounded by armed guards, wait­ing for hours just to get a drink. Sound like a scene from an apoc­a­lyp­tic movie? Think again. This is the re­al­ity fac­ing the res­i­dents of Cape Town.

Expat Living (Singapore) - - Contents - BY MELINDA MUR­PHY

Could Sin­ga­pore run out of wa­ter?

For months, Cape Town of­fi­cials have been warn­ing res­i­dents they could very likely run out of wa­ter, all thanks to an ex­treme drought, pos­si­bly fu­elled by cli­mate change. For now, it seems Day Zero has been avoided in 2018, but the sit­u­a­tion is still highly de­pen­dent on rain, and 2019 is still at risk. Cur­rently, res­i­dents are asked to limit us­age to 50 litres a day. Tourists are warned to take 90-sec­ond show­ers. Restaurants and bars have turned off their taps, en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to use hand sani­tiser. Some ho­tels have filled their pools with salt wa­ter.

In fact, much of the Western Cape has al­ready hit Day Zero where there is no drink­ing wa­ter at many schools. Just think what it would mean if the same thing hap­pens in Cape Town: al­most four mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in a ma­jor city won’t be able to turn on the tap to get a drink, much less bathe. Res­i­dents will line up at 200 emer­gency wa­ter sta­tions (each serv­ing ap­prox­i­mately 200,000 peo­ple) to re­ceive 25 litres of wa­ter a day – about what you use in a minute or two of show­er­ing. If it can hap­pen there, can it hap­pen here? Hope­fully not, though the World Re­sources In­sti­tute lists Sin­ga­pore as one of the top coun­tries fac­ing wa­ter stress. The key to our wa­ter fu­ture lies in some plans made very long ago, led by the coun­try’s found­ing father, Lee Kuan Yew, who took ac­tions when Sin­ga­pore was first formed to pro­tect our wa­ter

sup­ply. In fact, Prime Min­is­ter Lee was so passionate about wa­ter that in 2008 he said, “ev­ery other pol­icy has to bend at the knees for our wa­ter sur­vival”. The manag­ing agency for the is­land’s wa­ter sup­ply, PUB, dubbed him “the ar­chi­tect of Sin­ga­pore’s wa­ter story”; to­day, that story en­com­passes four chief sources of wa­ter that are dubbed “Na­tional Taps”; they are im­ported wa­ter, wa­ter from lo­cal catch­ments, Ne­wa­ter and de­sali­nated wa­ter.


When Sin­ga­pore sep­a­rated from Malaysia in 1965, the coun­try’s wa­ter fu­ture wasn’t so rosy. At the time, all our wa­ter came from Malaysia. Thanks to wa­ter agree­ments signed be­tween the two na­tions in 1961, we can con­tinue get­ting wa­ter from the state of Jo­hor un­til 2061. So, for now, Malaysia pro­vides 40 per­cent of our cur­rent sup­ply.

But Prime Min­is­ter Lee knew that wasn’t enough, and he chal­lenged the coun­try to find a way to save ev­ery drop of rain, a plan that now pro­vides 20 per­cent of Sin­ga­pore’s wa­ter. You know those canals slic­ing and dic­ing the is­land, the ones that run along many roads here, so deep you feel like you could fall in them and never get out? Well, their pur­pose is to fun­nel rain­wa­ter to places such as the Marina Reser­voir, the largest of Sin­ga­pore’s seven­teen reser­voirs, with one-sixth of the coun­try feed­ing into this catch­ment. Not only do these canals save wa­ter, but they have the added bonus of pro­tect­ing against flood­ing. In­cred­i­bly, in the past seven years, Sin­ga­pore has in­creased its catch­ment area from half to two-thirds of the coun­try.

But Sin­ga­pore’s road to wa­ter in­de­pen­dence has to be more than about col­lect­ing rain­wa­ter. Ex­treme droughts in the re­gion in the1960s led to strict ra­tioning and also re­minded us that rain isn’t al­ways con­sis­tent. Just look at Cape Town.

The crown jewel in Sin­ga­pore’s wa­ter strat­egy is Ne­wa­ter, five plants that pu­rify wa­ter, us­ing all sorts of new-fan­gled tech­niques such as mem­brane tech­nol­ogy and ul­tra-vi­o­let dis­in­fec­tion. Cur­rently, the plants meet up to 40 per­cent of our needs, but by 2060 that num­ber is ex­pected to rise to more than half of de­mand.

Ever won­der how all that used wa­ter gets to these plants? Be­lieve it or not, right be­low your feet is a Deep Tun­nel Sew­er­age Sys­tem (DTSS), a 48km-long, used-wa­ter su­per­high­way that takes your nasty toi­let wa­ter to the plants to be­come clean drink­ing wa­ter. Cool, eh?

Last, but not least, Sin­ga­pore also has cap­i­talised on the fact that we’re an is­land na­tion. Two de­sali­na­tion plants meet up to a quar­ter of our cur­rent wa­ter de­mand. Three more such plants are ex­pected to be ready by 2020.


There are many cities across the globe at risk be­sides Cape Town: Mex­ico City al­ready en­forces ex­treme ra­tioning and a lim­ited tap sup­ply; Jakarta is run­ning so dry that the city is sink­ing be­cause res­i­dents are suck­ing up groundwater faster than it can be re­placed; Mel­bourne says it could run out of wa­ter in less than a decade – and that’s just to name a few.

Sin­ga­pore is of­ten held up to the rest of the world as a city do­ing ev­ery­thing right when it comes to wa­ter man­age­ment. The coun­try is now con­sid­er­ing new mea­sures to help with wa­ter sup­ply such as an Au­to­mated Me­ter Read­ing (AMR) sys­tem, which was pi­loted in Pung­gol in 2016. The AMR would au­to­mat­i­cally trans­mit in­for­ma­tion to PUB; a re­lated app would then let home­own­ers know how much wa­ter they’re us­ing and alert them if they have a leak. There’d also be a re­lated game and re­wards – all aimed at mak­ing those of us liv­ing here do a bet­ter job at con­serv­ing wa­ter. Yup, Sin­ga­pore is blaz­ing the way.

Be­lieve it or not, Cape Town has ac­tu­ally won awards for wa­ter man­age­ment in the past. Un­for­tu­nately, the city’s of­fi­cials made the as­sump­tion that rain­fall lev­els would con­tinue as al­ways – an as­sump­tion that has proved to be dis­as­trous. All to say, we in Sin­ga­pore can’t rest on our lau­rels.

We also can’t just de­pend on the govern­ment to take care of us. We have to do our part, too. Any­body with small kids has no doubt en­dured a lec­ture by them on how to save wa­ter, some­thing they learn in school. Take shorter show­ers. Turn off the tap when you brush your teeth. Give half-used glasses of wa­ter to the dog or a plant. You know the drill.

In short, do your part, so Sin­ga­pore can do its part.


Marina Bar­rage

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