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The Straits Times says

Building expertise for land reclamation

Dyke construction and coastal management will play an essential role in the evolution of Singapore's land reclamation efforts. This is to be expected as the effects of rising sea levels, a consequence of climate change, will be felt on islands and littoral states in general. Thus, it is useful to gain experience in the use of seawalls for reclamation when a plot of land, the size of two Toa Payoh towns, is added to the north-western tip of Pulau Tekong - a method that is novel here.

The development of Pulau Tekong was forecast in the Land Use Plan of 2013. Reclamation, chiefly around Tuas and Tekong, was cited then as a key plank of Singapore's attempts to accommodate a larger population by 2030. Works around those areas would increase the country's land area by some 5,200ha by 2030. That expansion is equivalent to nine Ang Mo Kio towns. The scale indicates the level at which Singapore has to peg its efforts to overcome land constraints if it is to provide a quality of life in the future commensurate with what it offers now. The building of new towns and the redevelopment of golf courses will complement reclamation efforts. Given that the plan's target date is only 14 years away, it is imperative to begin work well on time so that the reclamation process is sustainable. Tekong's expansion is for Singapore Armed Forces training, but it also will free up land on the mainland for housing and other developments.

Technological advances are making a crucial contribution to reclamation efforts. Pulau Tekong will benefit from empoldering, a method that involves building a dyke around the area to be reclaimed and draining water from it. This will be an improvement on the traditional technique of filling a water body with sand, because it could lower construction costs and will decrease the amount of sand required. The latter advantage is a substantial one since dependence on sand imports, which is subject to various constraints, could have narrowed Singapore's room for manoeuvre on reclamation one day. The use of the Dutch empoldering method offers a way to create space more viably.

A larger issue is the steps which Singapore has to take to deal with rising sea levels, as climate change is irreversible. Dykes and flood-control measures will need to become habitual for the population of an island city-state whose only ecological hinterland is what is produced by its expertise, ingenuity and determination. Here, there is a lesson to be learnt from the Dutch, who have built polders for the past 2,000 years. These have evolved, through trial and error, from primitive forms into their modern incarnation as a part of the Netherlands' environmental security. Singapore would do well to continually study best practices elsewhere to shore up its own ecological defences.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'Building expertise for land reclamation'. Print Edition | Subscribe