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Singapore Water Action: Technology Turns Water Weakness into Strength

Singapore Water Action: Technology Turns Water Weakness into Strength

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Published by: adbwaterforall on Oct 15, 2012
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Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Singapore: Technology Turns Water Weakness into Strength
November 2005

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong believes that the island country's water dependency on mainland Malaysia has been a blessing in disguise that has helped turn “vulnerability into strength.” NOW: DESALINATING SEA WATER Water, observed Singaporean Prime Minister Lee, “is, for us, not an inexhaustible gift of nature, but a precious fruit of our efforts which we must use wisely.” Lee’s observations – having universal application in an increasingly water-short world – were made at the opening of a desalination plant worth 119 million U.S. dollars and capable of producing 114 million liters of potable water a day at 46 U.S. cents a liter to Singapore’s four million citizens. Guests at the opening ceremony sipped from bottles of “Desal H2O,” produced by the plant, contemplated goldfish swimming in a glass tank filled with the same water and listened to Lee explain how the water industry was now a “dynamic and vibrant part of the Singapore economy.” Over the last four years, the government has outsourced 2.7 billion dollars worth of water infrastructure projects, and will invest another 900 million dollars during the next two years to improve its water services. “The experience gained from these projects will give our companies a competitive edge in global the market,” noted Lee. The desalination plant at Tuas was designed and built by a local water treatment company, Hyflux, and features ‘reverse osmosis’ technology in which dissolved salts in sea water are extracted by forcing the water through membranes with microscopic pores. THEN: IMPORTING WATER FOR THE ISLAND This tiny island nation of 700 square kilometers imports nearly half of its daily consumption of 1.14 billion liters of water a day from reservoirs and rivers in Malaysia's Johor state, under agreements signed in 1961 and 1962 when Singapore was still a part of the Malay Federation. Under the agreements, Singapore is allowed to draw 1,277 million liters daily from rivers in Johor for a price of less than 1 cent per 1,000 gallons (3,800 liters) until 2011. Two other agreements signed during this period allow Singapore to use up to 461 acres of land in Johor as catchment areas for 99 years. All this water is pumped into Singapore through three huge pipelines across the twokilometer causeway that separates the two countries. After Singapore became an independent nation in August 1965, the island republic felt vulnerable enough to register
_____________________________ Based on the article of Kalinga Seneviratne, Asia Water Wire journalist

the agreements at the United Nations Charter Secretariat Office in June 1966. Recent years have seen acrimonious debates between the neighbors on the re-negotiation of these agreements. While Malaysians demand increased prices for their water, Singaporeans want guaranteed access to the water for an indefinite period. SINGAPOREANS SIP “NEWater” Singapore , however, has invested heavily in making the country as self-sufficient as possible. Lacking land area for more reservoirs, it has separate drainage and sewerage systems that safely drain water into existing local reservoirs in catchment areas that already cover half the island. Two years ago, Singapore announced a breakthrough when the country's water authority, the Public Utilities Board (PUB), was able to collect all used-water (in a country which is 100 percent sewered) to produce NEWater – a popular brand of bottled drinking water. There are now three plants producing 76 million liters of NEWater. Recently, the country rolled out its five millionth bottle, testimony to the cleanliness with which the country's drains are maintained since they flow back into the reservoirs – the main source of drinking water. Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said that despite being recycled, NEWater has gained the wide support and acceptance of Singaporeans. “One of the ways in which this has been done is by consistently distributing bottled water to the public for sampling, especially at major public events, such as the National Day Parade,” he said in an address to the International Desalination Association's World Congress. INTERNATIONAL PRAISE At the congress, Singapore showcased its expertise in water management and purification technologies to some 600 delegates from different parts of the world, including representatives China where Hyflux has already built five water-recycling plants. Valuable praise came from Abdullah Al Hussayen, Minister for Water and Electricity in the desert country of Saudi Arabia, who said Singapore's achievements lay in combining frontline technology with demand management. Yaacob told the congress that the secret behind Singapore’s successful water policy includes “keeping unaccounted-for-water low, pricing water to reflect its scarcity value and encouraging everyone, be it households, communities or the industries, to use and manage water wisely.”

*This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in July 2005: http://www.adb.org/Water/Actions/REG/irrigation-initiatives.asp. The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.

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