Water is critical to nation's survival, says DPM Teo, in outlining Singapore's strategic approach

Anderson Primary School student demonstrating a waterless carwash product on a car to DPM Teo Chee Hean.
Anderson Primary School student demonstrating a waterless carwash product on a car to DPM Teo Chee Hean.PHOTO: PUB
(From left) Dr Amy Khor (Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources), Mr Ng Joo Hee (Chief Executive, PUB), Mr Choi Shing Kwok (Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources) and Mr Masagos Zulkifli
(From left) Dr Amy Khor (Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources), Mr Ng Joo Hee (Chief Executive, PUB), Mr Choi Shing Kwok (Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources) and Mr Masagos Zulkifli (Minister for the Environment and Water Resources), flagging off the walkers for Walk for Water at Gardens by the Bay (Bay East).PHOTO: PUB

SINGAPORE - Water is critical to Singapore's survival, and the nation has adopted a strategic approach in planning for its water supply, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Saturday (March 4).

"Our struggle to make sure our people have water, is the struggle for Singapore's survival and independence," said Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.

"To make sure that we could survive, preserve our independence and thrive, we have taken a strategic approach to planning for water supply," he added.

He was speaking at the launch of Singapore's month-long celebration of World Water Day at Marina Barrage, which embodies the nation's resolve to develop local water sources so it would not be held to ransom over its water supply.

This strategic approach entailed preparing early for future sources of supply, he said, citing how Singapore prepared "many years in advance" before the expiration of the first water agreement with Malaysia in 2011. When it expired, Singaporeans did not face a disruption in water supply, he noted, and the event passed almost unnoticed.

Its water price already took reference from the marginal cost of water - what it would cost to replace the water should this first agreement not be renewed. And today, it has a robust, diversified water supply with four "national taps" - from local catchment, imported water from Johor, Newater and desalinated water.

In the same vein, Singapore must prepare now for 2061 - 44 years away - when the second water agreement with Malaysia, which currently meets half the island's water needs, expires, Mr Teo said.

It has invested $7 billion - about $430 million every year - in water infrastructure from 2000 to 2015. This figure will nearly double to $800 million every year between 2017 and 2021, to fund major investments in water plants, pipes, and pumps.

Besides preparing for the future, DPM Teo also warned of a more immediate worry.

Johor's Linggiu Reservoir, which feeds into the Johor River from which Singapore draws its supply, is only one-third full and there is a danger of it failing in prolonged dry weather.

"This water source is under stress," he said.

"So we must prepare psychologically to face water shortages if the Linggiu Reservoir fails and dries up, and our reservoirs here also face a very dry year."

Mr Teo's speech comes at the end of a week of intense debate in Parliament on the Budget where a key focus was on the water price hike, and where three ministers explained how water is a matter of national security, and had to be priced right to reflect its strategic importance and scarcity.

The price of water is set to increase by 30 per cent in two phases, from July 1 this year, and the imminent hike has drawn concern from residents and businesses.

Putting the hike in perspective, Mr Teo held up a bottle of water that costs about $1 at the supermarket, and said that after the full price increase, the same amount will pay for about 1,000 bottles of fresh, clean, drinkable water from the tap.

He also reiterated that middle- and lower-income households will continue to get financial help, saying: "A family living in a 4-room HDB flat will receive $300 in U-Save rebates this year."

Mr Teo also urged Singaporeans to inculcate the value of water to future generations.

Singapore World Water Day is organised by national water agency PUB, and Saturday's event included an exhibition, a public walk and a dragon boat race, attracting about 4,000 participants. Other public activities will be held this month across the island to drive home the need to save water and make every drop count.