Speech by DPM and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, at the 10th Anniversary Finale Celebration of the Marina Barrage on 27 October 2018.
“Water for All Singaporeans: Planning, Public Support, Partnerships”
Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources,
Friends and fellow visitors to Singapore.
I am pleased to attend the finale event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Marina Barrage.
Water is a precious resource and an existential issue for us here in Singapore. At the time of our independence, water security cast a very long shadow over our nation’s future. We only had a few reservoirs. We were now out on our own, separated from Malaysia in 1965. But we depended on our two water agreements signed in 1961 and 1962 for water from Johor. Even then, with these water agreements in 1963 and 1964, we had a severe and prolonged drought that forced us to impose water rationing for ten months. I have a little more white hair than some of you out there, and I can still remember those days. So critical is water that the 1961 and 1962 Water Agreements were guaranteed by both the governments of Singapore and Malaysia in the Separation Agreement in 1965, which was in turn registered with the UN.
Even today, water is critical for our future. In a study of 167 countries by the World Resources Institute in 2015, Singapore was the country or territory most likely to be water-stressed in 2040. This is why water security has always been a national priority. We have spared no effort to treat every drop of water as precious. To turn as many drops of water into drinkable water as we can, and to use each drop of water, as many times as we can. Through these efforts, we have enabled all Singaporeans to enjoy good, clean water at the turn of a tap today.
How we got here from our situation in the 1960s is no less than a modern miracle. We must never take this for granted.
Safeguarding Our Water Resource
We have pursued 3 P’s to make sure that we have enough water: Planning, Public Support, and Partnerships.
First, Planning. Careful long-term planning has always been needed to make use of all the limited water resources we have. We have no great rivers or lakes to draw from. We only have one small island, here. From our early days, we started cleaning up our rivers. We now have 17 reservoirs, compared to 3 in 1965. We invested heavily in infrastructure and technology. We developed NEWater, to allow us to reclaim used water and use every drop more than once. We now have four national taps, namely our reservoirs, imported water from Malaysia, NEWater and desalination.
Despite these, we need to do more to ensure a sustainable and resilient water supply for the future. We need to be prepared for potential threats to our water supply, like extreme weather conditions, or major oil or other pollutant spills that can affect our desalination plants. Singapore is already facing the effects of climate change, which brings more dry weather, and at the same time, more intense rainfall. For example, in January 2018, there was an episode where about half of Singapore’s average monthly rainfall in January fell within just four hours.
This is why we have to continue to plan for the long-term and invest in our water infrastructure ahead of future demand and needs. We are building more desalination and NEWater plants, pipelines and pumping stations, and water reclamation plants. In fact, a new desalination plant is coming up near here, at Marina East just across the waters, due for completion in 2020. It is a dual-mode plant that can treat both sea water and freshwater from Marina Reservoir. So the investments we are making are very large, and these are investments for a secure future.
Second, Public Support. We need all Singaporeans to come on board our water journey, and public support for our policies. The way Singaporeans have embraced NEWater is a good example of the public support that we need. I still remember the National Day Parade in 2002, when we all stood up proudly and drank NEWater together to show that we now have a new source of water to keep ourselves going. It did not just show that we accepted NEWater, but it also demonstrated our determination and resolve to keep on finding ways to overcome our water security challenge.
These investments come with significant cost. At the same time, the costs of maintaining our current water infrastructure and producing water will also continue to rise. But generations of Singaporeans understand our never-ending search to assure our own future; and are prepared to pay the price, so that we can have water security and no one will ever threaten our survival through water. If we do not succeed, the real price that all Singaporeans will pay is water insecurity, not knowing whether we can have the next drop of water we need.
Singaporeans are also doing our part to conserve water. Singapore’s household water consumption has fallen over the years. Our average household water consumption in 2009, roughly ten years ago, was 155 litres per person per day. Under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, we set a target to reduce household water consumption to 140 litres per person per day by 2030. But, I am happy to say that by 2017, after roughly half the time has elapsed, we had already reduced household consumption to 143 litres per person per day, very close to our 2030 target. So I think that all of you out there, all Singaporeans, can give yourselves a pat on the back and give yourselves a round of applause. But the reward for success, hard work and achievement is to be even more ambitious, and to try to achieve more.
We will now set a new 2030 target of 130 litres per person per day. Leveraging on smart technologies, PUB has plans to help Singaporeans achieve this. For example, PUB has trialled smart water meters which can be read remotely and has also developed a mobile app to allow households to access near real-time water usage, and be alerted earlier of possible water leaks in their homes. A 2016-2017 trial in Punggol has helped participating households achieve monthly water savings of up to 5 per cent. PUB is studying and exploring the rollout of smart water meters to all its customers. Under the Smart Shower Programme, a demonstration project by PUB, in collaboration with HDB, 10,000 selected new HDB units are being fitted with smart shower devices that could be used with mobile apps to provide real-time water consumption information, potentially helping the households save up to 5 litres of water per person per day during showers.
Third, building Partnerships. We can also strengthen our partnerships with key stakeholders to achieve greater public support for our water journey. This is why we started the Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) Programme in 2006 to develop a shared sense of ownership of our water resources within our community. Over the years, our public agencies and private developers have adopted ABC Waters concepts in their developments. Just last month, I opened ABC Waters at Hougang Town where the three projects there created more communal space, improved connectivity and brought residents closer to water.
In the old days, in the 50s and 60s, if you built a house, or if you built a block of apartments, you would have the backs facing the rivers and the waterways because they were seen as places that were not so clean, as they would discharge waste water. But today, because of the ABC Waters Programme, our living rooms and our balconies now face our waterways because they are beautiful, they are clean, and they are an asset for all of us to enjoy.
Marina Barrage right here is one of our best examples. Today, it is not only a source of water supply and flood control, but also a lifestyle destination. Waterfront facilities are now part of our Singaporean lifestyle. By bringing all Singaporeans closer to water, we will also better cherish and appreciate water.
PUB has been collaborating with non-government organisations (NGOs) who share the same passion and commitment to safeguarding our water resource. They worked closely with several partners, such as Waterways Watch Society whose team of volunteers patrol our waterways, and educate the public on environmental responsibility every week. They also conduct litter-picking to keep our blue spaces clean. PUB has also launched the Watermark Awards, which is the highest recognition in Singapore for individuals and organisations in the public, private and people sectors for achievements in water efficiency and conservation of water resources. All of us can also enjoy being on the water – canoeing, kayaking, dragon boating, because we now have facilities built on the water in the barrage for everyone to enjoy.
Water will always be a matter of national survival for us. We have come a long way in our water journey, but there is still a long way to go in our bid for water security. We need all three P’s – planning for the long term, public support, and partnerships, to take us forward. Let us all work together to protect our precious water resources and turn this into a national movement. Please enjoy the evening! Thank you very much.
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