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DATE OF RELEASE: 16 July 2005
Speech by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, at the official opening of Semakau Landfill for Nature-related Recreational Activities on 16 July 2005 at 10.00am.

Distinguished guests Ladies and gentlemen

1. A very good morning to you, and welcome to the official opening up of Semakau Landfill for recreational activities. Through the activities that have been planned for you later today, you will discover that it is a host of pleasant surprises and hidden treasures.

2. I am delighted to have with us a very special group of guests. These are members of the 40 or so families that once resided on Pulau Sakeng, an island that used to lie near Pulau Semakau. Both islands have since been joined by a bund and road in order to construct and operate this landfill. This morning's visit will no doubt be a nostalgic one for these families ? as they reunite with former neighbours and friends and reminisce on the way life was at this site of their former homes. I have every confidence that this rekindling of ties will be a happy occasion for them.

3. This aside, there are also three other very good reasons why the opening up of Semakau Landfill for recreational activities is of special significance.

4. First, and foremost, is the progress we have made as a nation to reduce the amount of waste generated. When Semakau Landfill first came into operation in 1999, it was only expected to last for 30 years, or until 2030. But since then, we have managed to cut down the volume of our waste - in fact, 11% less waste was generated last year as compared with the year 2000. This, in turn, has enabled us to extend the lifespan of Semakau Landfill by another 15 years until the year 2045. This is a highly encouraging sign, and I would like to urge everyone to continue to do his or her part to reduce waste so that Singapore can realise our vision of moving towards zero landfill.

5. Second, while we continue our efforts at reducing waste generated from households and industries, we have also demonstrated that operating a waste landfill need not necessarily be a threat to the environment. Just to illustrate one example of how we have managed this, consider the way in which the two original islands had been joined to form the landfill site. The entire landfill site is enclosed by a 7-km rock bund filled with sand, and then lined with a layer of impermeable membrane and marine clay, such that there would be no leakage into the open sea.

6. Such efforts to protect the island's ecosystem have clearly paid off. Mangrove trees have been successfully replanted on the island, marine wildlife thrives in the waters surrounding the island, and the air quality here is good. There is also hardly any foul smell, which may be typical of landfills in many parts of the world.

7. This brings me to the third but by no means least important point, that because of the way the landfill was created and the effectiveness of its management since then, that this island can be opened up for recreational activities.

8. In this respect, I am indeed very happy that three special interest groups ? the Singapore Nature Society, Sports Fishing Association of Singapore, and the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research ? had responded to my call to make the best use of our environment and explore this landfill as a haven for their activities. In fact, I have been told that since I announced the opening up of Semakau Landfill for selected recreational activities in March, members from these groups have been coming here regularly. I am very encouraged by their enthusiasm and hope other groups will also consider this island as the preferred venue for their activities in the near future.

9. However, as the saying goes, privilege does come with responsibility. I would like to call upon the three special interest groups to join us as co-custodians of the island. Your support and feedback are critical as we plan the infrastructure and supporting amenities to make Semakau more attractive as a recreational playground.

10. In closing, I would like to thank the staff of the National Environment Agency, who had worked very hard to get Semakau Landfill ready for recreational activities. My appreciation also goes to all other partners who have contributed in one way or another to make what we see and have today a reality, particularly the 40 families living on the original Pulau Sakeng who had relocated to the mainland. I see this as their contribution to 40-year-old Singapore.

11. In conclusion, let me wish all of us gathered here a pleasant day on this wonderful island in the sun. The environment is ours to enjoy - let us work together to look after it for our future generations to enjoy too. On this note, I declare Semakau Landfill officially opened for recreational activities.

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