Many Singaporeans unaware of monthly water usage: Poll

Dragon boaters taking part in a race at the launch of Singapore's month-long celebration of World Water Day at Marina Barrage yesterday. In a Sunday Times poll of 100 respondents, 75 said they did not know how much they spent on water each month.
Dragon boaters taking part in a race at the launch of Singapore's month-long celebration of World Water Day at Marina Barrage yesterday. In a Sunday Times poll of 100 respondents, 75 said they did not know how much they spent on water each month.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Many Singaporeans are unaware of their monthly water usage even as they think that the recently announced water price hike is unnecessary - a reaction that shows they do not appreciate the cost of water, said water management experts.

In a street poll conducted last Thursday by The Sunday Times, 75 of 100 respondents said they did not know how much they spent on water each month.

When informed of this figure, water resource development expert Asit K. Biswas, distinguished visiting professor at the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, told The Sunday Times he was "surprised that a quarter of them even knew".

He thinks that this has not come about because of a lack of transparency or information, but because of a bigger problem.

"Singaporeans have been taking water for granted just because nothing has happened in the last few years," he said.

The poll - conducted at six train stations in the north, west, south and central areas of Singapore - had questions ranging from whether respondents knew how much the 30 per cent price increase would cost them monthly, to how they were conserving water.

The questions were posed as many Singaporeans are debating the 30 per cent increase in water tariffs - the first in 17 years - which was announced in Budget 2017 last month.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing both spoke in Parliament last Wednesday to address the concerns of ministers and the public.

However, The Sunday Times poll revealed divided views on the increase, as half of the respondents felt the hike was unnecessary.

Mr Ong Chin Choon, 56, who is unemployed, said: "I don't think there is a need to do it now because of the poor economic situation.

"There have also been recent increases in other fees, such as the HDB service and conservancy charges as well as public carpark fees. It is too much at one go."

However, experts believe the price hike was long overdue and would do Singaporeans good.

Professor Biswas said the results reveal complacency among Singaporeans and felt that the increase was too small.

"We need to realise that Singapore's water supply is not reliable," he said, adding that he would double the price of water by 2019 if it were up to him.

He said the 30 per cent hike was the best way to drive across the message that water is precious.

Professor Ng Yew Kwang, Winsemius professor of economics at the Nanyang Technological University, said "the 30 per cent price increase is highly desirable", given that water has always been underpriced.

However, Prof Ng did think that the increase was too sudden.

"The Government should have increased the price several times over the past 17 years. Now, it is too late to do this," he added.

Besides the timing of the hike, 72 per cent of respondents added that they were at a loss as to how to further reduce their consumption.

Retiree Chee Saw Siew, 55, whose water bill was $12.75 for last month - well below the national average of $29.45 for households living in executive apartments, said: "There is a limit to how much water can be saved."

However, Prof Biswas said there was "plenty of room to conserve water" if Singaporeans "saved smart". He suggested reducing the usage of appliances that consume the most water or are the least water-efficient, such as washing machines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 05, 2017, with the headline 'Many S'poreans unaware of monthly water usage: Poll'. Print Edition | Subscribe