Singapore’s water, environment and development challenges beyond 2020 |

Singapore's water, environment and development challenges beyond 2020

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Singapore’s brave move to close the water loop has enabled it to develop a diversified water supply strategy termed the “Four National Taps”: local catchment water, imported water, ultra-clean reclaimed water known as NEWater and desalinated water. But even after closing its water loop, the Republic still needs to ensure a sustainable supply of water.

Water demand is expected to double by 2060, just as Singapore’s water agreement with Malaysia expires in 2061. This rising demand for water is one of Singapore’s three main challenges in securing an adequate water supply for the future, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli during a seminar at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) on 18 January. The other two challenges are climate change and the rising costs of operating and maintaining a water system, he said at the seminar, where he was the guest-of-honour.

As water demand grows, Singapore needs the “fifth national tap” of water demand management, as proposed by Dr Cecilia Tortajada, Senior Research Fellow at the LKYSPP’s Institute of Water Policy and a fellow speaker at the seminar. Singapore’s national water agency PUB has in place for many years various water conservation programmes. These include a mandatory water efficiency labelling for water fittings and appliances, a certification programme to encourage non-domestic customers to include water efficient measures in their premises and processes, and requirements for large water users to submit their water efficiency management plans, and outreach and education programmes. This has enabled the daily per capita consumption to continually reduce over the years.

But a paradigm shift is needed so that people examine their own water requirements instead of simply demanding a constant supply of good quality water regardless of droughts and climate change, added Mr Masagos. For example, people who shower three times a day could decide to shower only twice a day, and do away with baths altogether. “We need to look at how we can translate this paradigm shift into actual behavioural change,” he said, adding: “We can only succeed if this becomes culture.”

One way to effect changes in consumer behaviour could be to raise the price of water, as suggested by Prof Asit K. Biswas, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the LKYSPP, at the seminar. Professor Biswas proposed that Singapore’s water price, which has not changed since 2000, should be increased – even doubled. Today, water spending comprises 0.35 per cent of Singapore residents’ average median household income compared to 0.7 per cent in 2000.

But Mr Masagos pointed out in response that pricing water correctly has political considerations given its impact on the people. Justifying a higher price would be difficult as PUB has managed to keep water production costs low via technology and productivity, he explained. Dr Tortajada also noted that any change in water prices would “have to be accompanied by a massive communication campaign and the pricing structure has to be very considered so that poor people don’t have to bear a greater burden”.

Still, this “happy state” of relatively low water prices cannot last forever, Mr Masagos added. How much water will cost in 2060 is unknown, and will depend on whether Singapore continues to import from Malaysia as well as energy prices at that point. He advocated finding technologies that can improve water efficiency, such as waterless car-cleaning methods and waterless urinals.

Meanwhile, PUB also has to tackle the challenge of finding the optimal water level for reservoirs: high enough to guard against droughts but low enough to prevent flooding during downpours, said Mr Masagos. Singapore’s limited water storage capacity on land has prompted the Government to explore underground storage.


On 18 Jan 2016, Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli shared his reflections on the seminar topic, “Singapore’s water, environment and development challenges beyond 2020”, at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKSPP). The seminar was chaired by Prof Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the LKY School. Dr Cecilia Tortajada, Senior Research Fellow at the LKYSPP’s Institute of Water Policy, and Prof Asit K. Biswas, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the LKYSPP and winner of the 2006 Stockholm Water Prize, presented their research findings.

Written by the External Affairs department

Date:
Tuesday, 02 February 2016

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