Singapore to cure water woes

Faced with water problems that many fear are beyond repair China is looking to tap Singapore’s expertise in growing and thriving on limited water resources. The city-state is reputed for its innovation in using the modest resources of its island area, for ingeniously recycling wastewater and desalinating seawater. Not only has Singapore managed to cope with a grim situation of water scarcity but also it is now boldly packaging its expertise and exporting it abroad.

At the 5th World Water Congress held in Beijing earlier this month, the Public Utilities Board, Singapore’s national water agency, courted Chinese water officials, hoping to secure a piece of China’s up and going water market. “Leveraging on technology, Singapore has managed to provide sustainable supply of water,” Teng Chye Khoo, from the Public Utilities Board (PUB) told the forum. “Now we hope to be able to help our companies export their know-how to more countries and regions and work with them to resolve local water problems”. Singapore’s share in the global water market is only one per cent but the government hopes to raise that to five per cent by 2015.

China could become one of the biggest markets for Singaporean water companies, according to Teng. Urbanisation and rapid industrialisation have increased demand for clean water even as China’s fast development has polluted the water table and turned many rivers black. Singapore’s desalination technology and its acclaimed use of recycled water are among the innovations that the PUB is looking to market on a large scale.

In recent years PUB has increasingly taken the role of an international consultant. PUB has also been identified by the International Water Association as its partner to uphold innovation in water. With its “Four National Taps” strategy, consisting of tapping local reservoirs, piping in water from Johor Bahru in Malaysia, using recycled water (NEWater) and desalinated water, Singapore is one of the few countries in the world that practices an integrated management of its supply sources.

China, by contrast, has been criticised for its fractured water management where some half a dozen government agencies are squabbling for supremacy over water resources. The list starts with the ministry of water resources, which oversees rural water resources, irrigation and flood control. Next is the ministry of construction, which supervises urban water management and the construction and operation of water supply plants.

Other powerful players include the state development and reform commission, which control the quota of foreign investment in national water resources, the ministry of land and resources, which oversees the underground water, the ministry of health and the state environmental protection administration.

Chinese experts have warned that foreign expertise and money will not necessarily cure China’s water woes. With water prices kept low, municipal authorities have no incentive to build new facilities or even to operate existing plants because the more waste they treat, the more money they lose.

“It is not a matter of technology,” says water expert Ma. “It is not primarily a matter of money. There is an urgent need to reform the environmental governance structure”. — IPS