Category 18 April 2019

Innovative water management in Singapore

Singapore has historically suffered from freshwater shortages and water insecurity. In the 2000s the Government of Singapore launched new policies to address this, providing grant funding and support to R&D in public sector and industry, investing in infrastructure to improve water cycle management, including water and wastewater treatment, and raising consumer awareness about water conservation through public information and labelling schemes. This helped increase water independence and establish a thriving and innovative water industry.

The challenge:

It seems illogical that island states, surrounded by water, should face concerns about water scarcity. But Singapore has historically been a prime example of this. The tiny city-state receives plentiful rainfall, but has very limited land availability and groundwater resources to store freshwater. This led Singapore to rely on neighbouring Malaysia for the majority of their freshwater supply.

In fact much of the world’s freshwater systems are under stress. Rivers and lakes are drying up or becoming too polluted to use. Agriculture consumes more water than any other source and wastes much of that through inefficiencies. Climate change is altering patterns of weather and water around the world, causing shortages and droughts in some areas and floods in others. As a result, some 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water.

The measure: 

Singapore has taken great strides to increase water security and self-sufficiency in the last few years.  

The transformation has been overseen by the Public Utilities Board (PUB) - Singapore’s national water authority, which manages the entire water system.

During the early 2000s, the PUB developed and implemented a policy approach towards water supply, covering the whole water cycle, introducing water recycling (in 2003), desalination technologies (first plant in 2005) and storm water management (in 2008).

The demand side of water management was also addressed through the promotion of water conservation. This has been done through economic mechanisms, such as pricing adjustments and tariffs, as well as by educating and informing citizens. A water efficiency labelling scheme helps consumers choose efficient water appliances.

The Government of Singapore endeavoured to turn the water scarcity challenge into an opportunity and make the water industry a key growth industry. In 2006, EUR 280 million was allocated for public grant partial funding for R&D, innovation and capacity development. A further EUR 250 million have subsequently been added to the pot. The Environment & Water Industry Development Council (EWI) was established to support R&D for new water technologies, encouraging them to engage in basic and applied research to develop and create new, innovative practices in water management.

The investment in R&D has helped establish a thriving water industry in Singapore. The country is home to about 180 water companies, representing the entire value chain from upstream manufacturers to system integrators, downstream players and project developers. The water industry currently contributes more than EUR 1.4 billion to Singapore’s gross domestic product and has created over 14,000 jobs.

Lessons learnt:

Singapore’s decision to invest heavily in R&D paid off, and the island state is now regarded as a regional leader in water innovation.

Most of all the identification and implementation of complementary policies – both supply side and demand side, infrastructure works and soft awareness raising – explain this successful case study.

Further deployment:

The size of Singapore makes the transferability and scalability of this measure unclear. However such a coherent strategy for water management – addressing both supply and demand aspects – provides a good template for other national governments. GML 8