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Singapore's water policy

The Problem

Extreme droughts in the 1960s caused severe water shortages, necessitating the implementation of water rationing. As a growing city-state with a small land area, high population density and scare freshwater supplies, Singapore was reliant on agreements with Malaysia that provided the city with 250 million gallons of water every day. Singapore currently uses 400 million gallons of water a day, but plans to eliminate its dependence on water imports by 2060.

How it was addressed

Singapore has spent S$600 million to S$800 million a year since 2006 on new technologies to increase its own water supply. A collaboration between the Public Utilities Board (PUB) and Economic Development Board led to the introduction of an extensive urban rainwater catchment system that has increased Singapore's catchment area from half to two-thirds of the island. On the supply side, wastewater reclamation (NEWater) and desalinisation plants now produce 55 percent of Singapore's water demand, while water pricing and efficiency measures on the demand side have decreased domestic water consumption from 166 litres per day in 1998 to 151 litres per day in 2013. Singapore is now regarded as a 'global hydro-hub', and the government is confident that self-sufficiency in water will be reached before the expiration of the Malaysian agreement in 2061.

Design Principles

  • Cross-silo collaboration

    Cross-silo collaboration

    The PUB has worked with the Economic Development Board to develop a strategy to encourage businesses to invest in R&D on water issues in Singapore, incubating the water technology the country needs to achieve its policy goals.

  • Long-term vision

    Long-term vision

    Singapore's 2060 water vision is for the country to become fully self-sufficient and ensure an efficient, adequate & sustainable supply of water. This vision is led by the PUB, set up as a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry in 1963 to coordinate the supply of electricity, piped gas, and water for Singapore. In 2001, recognising that Singapore’s water catchment and supply systems, drainage systems, water reclamation plants, and sewerage systems are part of a comprehensive water cycle, the PUB was reconstituted to become Singapore’s national water authority, overseeing the entire water loop. The sewerage and drainage departments from the then Ministry of the Environment were transferred to PUB.

  • Systems thinking

    Systems thinking

    Singapore has built a robust, diversified water supply from four different sources known as the Four National Taps (water from local catchment areas, imported water, reclaimed water known as NEWater and desalinated water). By integrating the system and maximising the efficiency of each of the four taps, Singapore has ensured a stable, sustainable water supply capable of catering to the country’s continued growth.

  • Enabling framework

    Enabling framework

    By designing a policy framework to enable businesses to develop creative solutions in the water industry, Singapore's reputation as a world leader in the field has created commercial opportunities for the country's businesses overseas. For example, Hyflux, which produced the membranes used in Singapore's desalination and water plants has now built a number of water recycling plants in China.

  • Leverage business

    Leverage business

    The government has provided a supportive business environment with financial incentives to develop, test and commercialise innovative industrial water solutions. For example, The PUB allows companies to test their nascent technologies on Singapore's waste and saline water.

Other comments

In 2013, Singapore signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the US Environmental Protection Agency to collaborate on sustainable water management. Through hosting Singapore International Water Week, the city state now plays a central role in forging dialogue between policymakers, water experts and industry leaders on water challenges and solutions. In 2014 Singapore was awarded the UN's Water for Life Best Practice Award.

PUB will continue to invest in technology and R&D to improve the long-term sustainability of their water resources. It also seeks to raise awareness about water conservation among citizens.

Replicability factor and scaling

Hyflux, which produced the membranes used in Singapore's desalination and water plans, has now installed membrane products and systems in over 400 locations including, China, Algeria, the Middle East, India and North Africa. Their sales quadrupled to S$534.1 million from 2006 to 2012.

Further Information

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