Parliament: First of coastal protection studies to start this year; Jurong Island, East Coast are priority areas

Breakwaters, made of stone and concrete structures, usually built to protect sandy beaches and reclaimed shores from strong waves and erosion, at East Coast Park on Sept 5, 2019. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - As Singapore fortifies itself against rising tides that threaten to swallow it up, the nation's solutions and strategies will be based in science, with national water agency PUB taking the lead as the new national Coastal Protection Agency.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli told Parliament on Wednesday (March 4) that the PUB will this year embark on coastal protection studies to develop long-term strategies and engineering designs for protecting the most vulnerable segments of the Republic's coast, including Jurong Island and low-lying parts of the coast between the east and the city.

Singapore's coastal protection plans will be done in phases, starting with both these areas, said Mr Masagos, during the debate on his ministry's budget.

The expansion of PUB's role beyond stormwater management to include coastal protection responsibilities will allow the agency to tackle inland and coastal flooding holistically, he added.

"With this new responsibility, one agency, PUB, will study both coastal and inland flooding holistically and develop models to guide our flood protection response," said Mr Masagos.

As the world warms due to growing amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the climate system is thrown out of whack. This not only causes ice sheets to melt and ocean waters to expand, contributing to sea level rise, but will also increase the incidence of extreme weather events around the world.

Singapore is also at risk from more erratic rainfall patterns, whether it be extended periods of dry spells that could dry up its reservoirs, or bouts of more intense rainfall that could overwhelm drainage systems.

"Good water demand management is equally important in complementing efforts in water supply," said Mr Masagos, who on Wednesday also launched Singapore's 2020 water conservation campaign.

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Ms Hazel Khoo, director-designate for PUB's coastal protection department, told The Straits Times that a variety of factors are considered when prioritising areas for coastal protection.

These include the potential impact of a flood event, the criticality of assets within an area, such as the presence of airports, economic and industrial districts, the estimated costs of protection measures and opportunities of dovetailing coastal protection strategies with upcoming developments, she said.

"Parts of Singapore which are high urbanised and highly industrialised, such as the City-East Coast stretch and Jurong Island, have therefore been identified as priority areas for coastal protection," said Ms Khoo.

Even as Singapore looks to fortifying its coast, it will also look for opportunities for urban development and to preserve its green areas, Mr Masagos noted.

For instance, reclaiming a series of islands offshore and connecting these islands by building barrages, would create community spaces for Singaporeans, and also contribute to water resilience, he said.

But the country will not just employ "hard" engineering strategies to protect its coast.

"We will preserve our green carbon sinks and identify nature-based solutions. For example, planting mangroves can both stabilise our coastline by preventing erosion, while preserving our green lungs and supporting biodiversity," said Mr Masagos, adding that more details will be given during the debate over the budget for the Ministry of National Development.

His update on Singapore's coastal protection strategies follows an earlier announcement by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who said last year that $100 billion or more may be needed over 100 years to protect Singapore against rising sea levels caused by climate change.

And in his budget speech last month, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said Singapore will be setting up a new coastal and flood protection fund within the PUB, with an initial injection of $5 billion.

The fund will be topped up subsequently "whenever our fiscal situation allows", Mr Heng said then.

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