Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the Singapore World Water Day Celebrations 2023 on Saturday, 18 March 2023.
My Parliamentary Colleagues Ms Grace Fu and Dr Amy Khor,
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning, it is so good to join all of you to celebrate Singapore World Water Day today, especially since we have not been able to gather in such a large scale these last three years, so it is extra special to be able to come together like this. Thank you for all the hard work we have been through in the last three years.
Good that we can now come together to celebrate World Water Day together. We have all had a very nice walk together by Marina Bay to recognise the importance of water as a precious resource.
Indeed, our reservoirs and waterways are blue spaces for everyone in Singapore to enjoy. Of course, our reservoirs serve another important purpose, which is to provide us with safe and secure water.
We did not give it as much thought, perhaps, because for many years now we have clean and safe drinking water at the turn of a tap. But in fact, the world is facing a global water crisis.
It is not so apparent to us here in Singapore – we have good water supply, and we are a tiny island. We look around, it is water everywhere – so we say “How can there be a crisis in the world? So much water! How can you have a problem?”
But in fact, humankind is facing shortage of clean, fresh water. Around the world, even now, billions struggle to have enough water to meet their needs; In Asia, hundreds of millions still do not have access to clean, fresh drinking water.
The problem will get worse – experts estimate that with continued over-depletion and mis-management, the global demand for fresh water is likely to outstrip the supply by 40% by the end of this decade. It is not a problem that is going to happen in 50 years from now; even in the next few years, we will see the problem get worse.
So on this World Water Day, it is good that we are reminded that we must not take what we have in Singapore today for granted, and that water remains a precious resource.
In fact, we all know that it wasn’t that long ago that we had to struggle with our own supply of water.
I am not old enough to have experienced this personally; the older ones here would have. But my mother tells me stories of what life was like in the 50s and 60s, how she and her family in Kampong Amber, my uncles (her brothers) would have to take water from the well back to their home almost every day; how she, as a young girl, would go to the public standpipe to wash clothes because there was no water to wash clothes at home.
One of the difficult moments was a dry spell we had in 1963, when we had water rationing imposed for 10 months, with water supply cut off for as long as half a day, up to three times a week.
Because of this, we started the first of many water conservation campaigns. We had slogans like “Water is our life” and “Water is more precious than gold, silver and wealth” which show how bad things were back then.
But, in true Singapore spirit, we did not allow this adversity to overwhelm us. Instead, we worked tirelessly to tackle this challenge over the subsequent decades.
We did not have enough water, so we recycled water, and we now have what we call NEWater. Last year was 20 years of NEWater.
We also made the decision to price water properly – something which is very politically difficult to do, but important and necessary – to discourage over-consumption, to send the right price signals and incentives, so that we can develop additional sources of clean water.
That is why today, we are in a much better position. So we have got our local catchment, imported water, NEWater and desalination. We call these our “Four National Taps” that provide us with a safe and reliable supply of clean drinking water every day.
For this, we owe much to the leadership, tenacity and innovation of our forefathers, who set the example and tone for how we should manage our water resources.
The Marina Barrage, where we are standing right now, is a good example of this indomitable spirit. The Singapore River was once a polluted river, which could not support aquatic life.
But now, with the Barrage we have not just a freshwater reservoir in the city centre, but a tidal barrier against floods, and a place that we can all come together to relax and enjoy.
This took many long years of planning and hard work. But through efforts like these, working together as one people, we have pushed the boundaries of what is possible, and we have been able to meet our growing needs over the years.
We are in a better situation now, but we still have work to do. We still must do more to meet our future demand. We estimate that Singapore’s water demand will double over the next 30 years, to meet our growing population and economic needs.
Meanwhile, climate change is making our weather more volatile and unpredictable. We have just experienced something unusual in our weather – we experienced extremely unusual heavy rainfall just in the recent weeks, caused by the monsoon; and we also have also more frequent and prolonged dry spells. So it is going into the extremes – a lot of rain, a lot of dry spells. And the climate will get more unpredictable and this will affect Singapore too.
That is why we must continue to plan ahead, build up our infrastructure, and invest in new technologies to build a green and sustainable water supply.
The entire team at PUB is focussed on this important work; they have been strengthening our water system for 60 years now – this year happens to be PUB’s 60th Anniversary.
Over these 6 decades, generations of officers in PUB – from our pioneers to the engineers serving today, have played a critical role in our security and prosperity. I thank everyone in PUB – past and present – for your important contributions, and I am confident that PUB will continue to do your good work for many more decades to come.
Of course, the water issue is not just for PUB to resolve. All of us must do our part too.
Simple actions at home, like what the children (who were on stage previously) have highlighted – saving every drop, recognising that water is precious, all of that is important.
Beyond our homes, businesses and other organisations have a big part to play too, and I am glad so many of you are represented here from our business community. Our businesses take up more than half of Singapore’s water demand and this is likely to rise over time.
PUB has been working with you, our businesses, to implement water recycling projects and increase water efficiency. And from next year onwards, PUB will introduce mandatory water recycling for new projects in water-intensive industries, like the wafer fabrication, electronic, and biomedical sectors.
This is mandatory for some of the water-intensive industries implementing new projects, but all businesses, large and small, everyone can do something for water conservation. You can put in place simple measures like water efficient fittings, harvesting of rainwater, and all these will not only help you to reduce consumption, but can also help you save on your water bill.
Ultimately, we must cultivate and sustain a “water is precious”, and “every drop is precious” mindset. I encourage all of us to continue to save water and use only what we need. And this is why we are also very happy to have all our partners here today, doing your part and being strong advocates for water conservation.
Many of our schools have organised ground up initiatives like water rationing. Many other organisations are doing their own campaigns as we saw in the video just now. So I want to acknowledge all our stakeholders here today for your efforts in championing water sustainability – thank you all as well.
It is collective efforts like these where we all come together as one people and one nation that have enabled us to come this far in our Water Story, and in fact in our Singapore Story.
Let us continue to walk this journey together as active participants in nation building, as advocates for water conservation in Singapore, so that we can continue to overcome our challenges ahead and enjoy good clean water for many more decades to come. Thank you very much.
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