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5 interesting facts about the Singapore River clean-up

Published on Jul 5, 2014 6:00 AM
 
The Singapore River and the Central Business District (CBD) skyline in 2013. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

The heavily polluted Ganges River made headlines recently, but this time for the right reasons. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised a clean-up of the river - and the rest of the country - by the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's birth in 2019.

Nearly four decades ago, our very own Singapore River was in need of an extreme makeover. Back in the 1970s, squatters, hawkers and manufacturing industries crowded the banks of the river, leading to severe pollution. The Government eventually mounted a large-scale clean-up, with enhancements over the years, forming the vibrant waterway that we know today.

We pick out five facts you should know about the Singapore River clean-up and improvements made to it over the years.

An aerial view showing a concentration of barges and sampans along the Singapore River on Oct 30, 1961. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

1. It was then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew who called for the clean up of Singapore's rivers in 1977

Mr Lee said in February that year: “It should be a way of life to keep the water clean. To keep every stream, culvert and rivulet, free from pollution."

"The Ministry of Environment should make it a target: In 10 years let us have fishing in the Singapore River and Kallang River. It can be done," he added.

The water-witch is used to scoop up all the flotsam brought down by the current and empties its "bucket" into large rubbish bins on a barge. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

2. The Singapore River clean-up took 10 years and cost the Government $170 million

The clean-up involved a massive relocation of about 4,000 squatters, along with hawkers and vegetable sellers, whose daily waste flowed into the river. Public housing was found for the squatters, while street hawkers were persuaded to move to hawker centres.

Hundreds of bumboats ferrying goods from warehouses along the river to cargo ships out at sea were moved to a new lighter anchorage at Pasir Panjang by the Port of Singapore Authority. 

Foul-smelling mud also had to be dredged from the banks and the bottom of the river, and debris and other rubbish cleared.

Former Public Utilities Board (PUB) chairman Lee Ek Tieng, 81. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

3. The clean-up was spearheaded by the former chairman of the Public Utilities Board and then Environment Ministry Permanent Secretary Lee Ek Tieng

The 81-year-old civil engineer and his team were handed the task of ensuring fishing and other recreational activities would be possible along the Singapore River and Kallang Basin in 10 years’ time. The Kallang Basin was being polluted by nearby pig and duck farms and cottage industries. Mr Lee's successful completion of the project within the deadline earned him a gold medal in 1987, and an acknowledgement from Lee Kuan Yew himself in his personal memoir.

Flotsam, jetsam and debris found in the Singapore River. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

4. The Government started the Clean Rivers Education Programme in 1987

The programme's goal was to raise awareness of the negative effects of dumping waste into Singapore's waterways, and to encourage people to keep the waterways clean. The programme was previously administered by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC). Current education programmes aimed at keeping the country's waterways clean are run by the Waterways Watch Society (WWS), a local non-profit, non-governmental organisation.

The Marina Barrage as seen from the Singapore Flyer. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

5. The Marina Barrage, a new addition to the Singapore River, was completed in 2008

The Barrage is a dam across the Marina Channel, used to control floods and create the reservoir. It has nine gates and seven pumps which pump sea water out to the sea, while keeping rainwater in. Costing $226 million, the dam was also a visionary idea for the river from Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

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