DPM Teo Chee Hean at the World Water Day Celebrations 2017

SM Teo Chee Hean | 4 March 2017

Speech by DPM and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, at the World Water Day Celebrations on 4 March 2017 at the Marina Barrage.


Minister Masagos
Senior Minister of State Amy Khor
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning,

World Water Day is celebrated annually all over the world. But here in Singapore it has a very special significance. Water is critical to our survival. Our struggle to make sure our people have water, is the struggle for Singapore’s survival and independence. The older ones among us today will remember the water rationing of the 60s. I have seen large parts of MacRitchie Reservoir dried up in my younger days – with cracked dry mud on the reservoir floor. Many of you will also remember the period from Independence to the 2000s where threats to cut our water supply were made from time to time to pressure us to give in, and bend to their will. 

Water Security and Sustainability

To make sure that we could survive, preserve our independence and thrive, we have taken a strategic approach to planning for water supply.  We used to rely on imported water from Johor for our water supply – our two water agreements, guaranteed in the Separation Agreement. But in 2011, the first water agreement expired.

We prepared for this many years in advance. We made water a strategic priority. This required heavy investment to develop local water sources. Expanding new catchment areas, sewering all homes in Singapore, cleaning up our urban catchment areas, and building new reservoirs where other cities would not have thought possible, including this Marina Reservoir right in the middle of our city – so that we would not be held to ransom, and would have a choice whether to try to renew this agreement or not depending on whether the terms were reasonable.

Our struggle to make sure our people have water, is the struggle for Singapore’s survival & independence.


2011 passed almost un-noticed in Singapore, when we handed over the water plants, under the 1961 agreement, to Johor in working order. Singaporeans did not face a disruption in water supply, and no big price shocks. As a precaution, our water price already took reference from the marginal cost of water -  what it would cost us to replace the water should this first agreement not be renewed. We continue to keep abreast of new technologies and deploy them when they become cost-efficient and viable. We were fortunate over the past few years to benefit from advances in technology – NEWater and membrane-based desalination. These alternative water resources are not dependent on rainfall and have helped to supplement our traditional water resources. Today, we have a robust and diversified water supply with the “Four National Taps” – water from our local catchment, imported water from Johor, NEWater and desalinated water.

Imported water from Malaysia currently meets half of our water needs. The Linggiu Reservoir feeds into the Johor River, where we draw our supply from.  And this water source is under stress. The Linggiu Reservoir is now only one-third full, and there is a danger of it failing if there is prolonged dry weather.

So we must prepare – psychologically, to face water shortages if the Linggiu Reservoir dries up, and our reservoirs here also face a very dry year. And in a similar way we must prepare now for the future – for 2061 when the second water agreement ends.

For the 16 years from 2000 to 2015, we invested $7 billion in water infrastructure, or about $430 million every year. This will almost double to $800 million every year from 2017 to 2021.  This will fund major investments in desalination and NEWater plants, new and renewal of water pipes and pumps so that the fresh clean water flows into every home when we turn on our taps.

How much does our water cost? This bottle of water, 330 ml, bought at a supermarket typically costs less than one dollar. The same amount of money, just under one dollar, will pay for about 1,000 bottles of fresh clean drinkable water coming out of our taps, day or night – after the full price increase phased in over the next two years.

Our price of water is comparable to that in major cities in developed countries which have large rivers and lakes to draw from. We have none of these natural sources of our own. According to the World Resources Institute, if we just left things to nature, we are the most water-stressed country in the world. But our water story is the real story of Singapore’s determination to survive and thrive. We have shown that we are ready and able to overcome these almost insurmountable odds, to successfully bring water reliably and at an affordable price to every family in Singapore, to successfully overcome Singapore’s constraints to survive and thrive. For our middle and lower income households, we will continue to provide U-Save rebates and support so that water will not be a burden for these families. A family living in a 4-room HDB flat will receive a total of $300 in U-Save rebates this year.

So this is our water story, the story of Singapore. The story that Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s generation wrote for us. The story that my father taught me, and which I have passed on to my children. The story that you have to pass on to your children.

Water is precious. Water is survival. Water is life. Water is freedom and independence.  Make every drop count.

Thank you.