When a storm raged across the Netherlands in 1953, massive floods claimed 1,800 lives. The country was unprepared: sea water breached dykes, which had not been raised despite warnings of trouble.
"The fact was that nobody felt like spending a vast amount of money on raising the dykes. After all, there were no floods for years," Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said yesterday, during the debate on his ministry's budget.
That flood is etched in Dutch national memory, he noted, as he cited their experience with water to highlight the need for long-term planning.
The Dutch have built a system of dykes, pumps and water storage capabilities - with each household contributing water taxes, enabling the world's first and only Water Bank for large investments. Today, the Dutch pour over €400 million (S$598 million) into flood protection a year, have attracted water-intensive investments and exported their expertise.
While Singapore does not have enough water, it has taken the same determined approach to ensure a reliable supply, Mr Masagos said. Planning and investing in water resources ahead of time have become even more critical with climate change posing a challenge to water security globally, he added.
He cited how Johor's Linggiu Reservoir, which feeds into the Johor River from which Singapore draws its supply, is a third full "and can dry up if current abstractions continue and prolonged dry weather returns unpredicted". Fortunately, he said, Singapore was prepared during a dry spell in 2014.
"For PUB, it's always about ensuring resilience in our water supply so that disruptions do not occur to our industries and no Singaporean will die of thirst," he said. Last year, the national water agency completed its latest review of a plan to ensure Newater and desalination plants meet up to 85 per cent of the country's water demand by 2060, as well as new pipelines for drinking water and used water.
"We are making good progress," Mr Masagos said, citing the opening of a fifth Newater plant in January and the three new desalination plants being built. "All these have now become critical so that we have a resilient water supply when the weather does not favour us," he added.
"Our strategy involves not just long-term planning, but also right pricing and water conservation measures. All these levers work in tandem."