At 50, Singapore leads water revolution
(The Philippine Star) - August 5, 2015 - 10:00am

SINGAPORE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Fifty years ago Singapore had to ration water, and its smelly rivers were devoid of fish and choked with waste from shipbuilding, pig farms and toilets that emptied directly into streams.

But it’s a very different story today. The world’s most densely populated country now collects rainwater from two-thirds of its land, recycles wastewater and is even developing technology that mimics human kidneys to desalinate seawater.

“In about a lifetime, we have transformed Singapore,” said George Madhavan, an engineer who has worked for the national PUB water agency for 30 years and is now communications director.

“It’s not rocket science – it is more political will ... The key success factor is really government – the leadership to pulldifferent agencies together to come up with a plan ...”

As governments around the world wrestle with water crises 1from droughts to floods, many are looking to the tiny Asian city-state of Singapore for solutions.

In many countries, a flood prevention agency focuses on quickly draining away storm water, while another manages drinking water.

In Singapore, PUB “manages the entire water loop,” Madhavan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Its aim is to capture every drop of rain it can and recycleas much used water as possible.

“That means that ideally, we don’t sell you water. We rent you water. We take it back, we clean it. We’re like a laundry service. Then you can multiply your supply of water many, many times,” Madhavan said.

“The water that you drink today is the same water that dinosaurs drank. We don’t create or destroy water. It just goes around. So we are using engineering to shorten the loop.”            

Following independence on Aug. 9, 1965, the new 700 sq km country relied on three reservoirs and water imported from neighboring Malaysia.

Today, it collects rainwater through an 8,000-km drain network that empties into 17 reservoirs, and reclaims used water from a deep tunnel sewerage system up to 60 meters below ground.

Singapore, which is recognized as a global leader in water technology, set up a water planning unit in 1972. Unlike Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo, it does not have land outside the city to act as huge catchment areas.

Eleven government agencies joined up from 1977 to 1987 to clean the heavily polluted Singapore River and Kallang Basin in the main commercial area.

The city relocated 610 pig farms and 500 duck farms (later barring such farms), transferred 5,000 street hawkers to food centers, and moved boats east to the Pasir Panjang area.

Madhavan said the biggest challenge was relocating 46,000 squatters living in squalid conditions without sewers into housing blocks.

More than 260 tonnes of rubbish were removed, the area was landscaped, and in 1987, fish returned to the waters.

Worried about pollution, authorities initially kept people away from the waterways.

ACIRC GEORGE MADHAVAN IN SINGAPORE KUALA LUMPUR AND TOKYO MADHAVAN NBSP PASIR PANJANG SINGAPORE SINGAPORE RIVER AND KALLANG BASIN THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION WATER
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