WATER: HOW DOES SINGAPORE GET IT?
Living in a small, urban country with seemingly no agriculture, one may wonder where Singapore would get its natural resources, most significantly, water. The simple answer to this is what our country used to be a part of before 1965: Malaysia. Since Singapore became a sovereign state, the Independence of Singapore Agreement, formally known as the Separation Agreement, was registered at the United Nations.¹ In this contract, the Water Agreements, agreements allowing Singapore to extract water from Malaysia under certain stipulations, were guaranteed by the Malaysian government. An Act of Parliament in Malaysia incorporated the guarantee in the country's constitution, and the Separation Agreement included the Malaysian Constitution as an annexe.² These agreements were extremely vital not only to Singapore as it depended on water from Malaysia, but also on the political relationship between the two countries; as stated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “[a]ny breach of the Water Agreements would call into question the sanctity of the Water Agreements and the Separation Agreement, and can undermine Singapore’s very existence.”
The first Water Agreement was signed in 1961 between Singapore and the State of Johor and expired in 2011.² This agreement entailed the right for Singapore to draw unlimited water from the Scudai and Tebrau Rivers under the condition that the small nation would import twelve percent of its treated water to Johor.² The second Water Agreement nullified the first; Singapore is now entitled to draw 250 million gallons of water from the Johor River per day under the condition that it Johor is provided with up to 2% of the raw water it supplied every day. This agreement was signed in 1962 and will expire in 2061.²
Singapore’s reliance on water from Malaysia has jeopardised itself as an independent nation. The Johor River, for instance, has a long history of droughts, pollution, and low water levels as a result of the removal of water from the river to combat salinity.³ During these times, Singapore must provide its treated water to Johor in order to help their environmental situation as the river meets a large part of its water needs. Since imported water is roughly half of Singapore’s water supply, it is getting dangerously close for Singapore to face a water crisis unprepared.¹ And, it can only get worse over time– according to Channel News Asia, the Singapore Public Utilities Board says that “by 2060, water demand in Singapore could double from the 430 million gallons it currently consumes each day.”
So, how is Singapore combatting its reliance issue? Will our country ever be able to reach self-sufficiency, or will it always be a part of Malaysia? Well, Singapore has recently opened the only desalination plant which can filter reservoir and sea water.⁴ This could be a huge turning point in Singapore’s struggle for water supply. As stated by National water agency PUB chief executive Ng Joo Hee, "unlike the other three taps - imported water, rainfall and recycled water - (the sea) is a practically limitless resource”.⁴ Even in the case of dry weather, water can be endlessly supplied by the sea. The plant can treat up to 30 million gallons per day. With more practical solutions like this, self-sufficiency can reach our nation faster than one would expect.
Desalination plants are the future of water supply in Singapore. If we think of the impacts one establishment has had on Singapore as both a nation and an agricultural land, there can only be an infinite number of possibilities on improving our environment through modern processes. Especially for countries that don’t have as many natural resources, advancement is in the hands of our generation.
Works Cited: (you may look at these links for more information!!)
¹“Singapore and Malaysia.” The Water Issue, https://infographics.channelnewsasia.com/interactive/water issue/index.html.
²“Water Agreements.” Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore, https://www.mfa.gov.sg/SINGAPORES- FOREIGN-POLICY/Key-Issues/Water-Agreements.
³Today. “How Johor's Growing Water Woes Could Affect Singapore.” TODAY, https://www.todayonline. com/commentary/how-johors-growing-water-woes-could-affect-singapore.
⁴Tan, Audrey, and Ng Keng Gene. “S'pore's Fourth Desalination Plant, Which Can Treat Both Sea and Reservoir Water, Officially Opens.” The Straits Times, 5 Feb. 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/ singapore/singapores-fourth-desalination-plant-officially-opens-can-treat-both-sea-and-reservoir.