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  Straits Times 5 Feb 07
Making water sufficient

BY 2025, there may be 30 water-scarce countries in the world, says the United Nations. Singapore is not likely to be one of them, though.

From the breakthrough with Newater, Singapore has gone on to the forefront of water-treatment technologies.

Yet, having the process is one thing. Placing it within a workable infrastructure to produce sufficient economically sustainable supplies is another.

But here, the picture looks promising indeed. Later this month, for example, the Public Utilities Board will begin operating a plant using novel methods to harvest water from a small river, a source previously considered marginal. Its first 'variable salinity plant', near the head of Sungei Tampines, will be able to switch between treating rainwater and seawater, depending on whichever is more plentiful at a given time.

It is infrastructure such as this that will speed the nation along towards self-sufficiency. All credit to the water people for their tenacity and ingenuity.

In Singapore's urban landscape, there are no vast tracts of land that can be cordoned off as pristine catchment areas. Water often must be collected through non-traditional means and almost wherever it may be found.

Thus the beauty of Singapore's approach to water-collection areas, an instance of inspired innovation: Turn the urban zones themselves into catchment areas.

By 2009, two-thirds of the island will be so designated. In addition, reservoirs, rivers and canals are being spruced up and made accessible for recreation.

Instead of jealously guarding the waters from surreptitious anglers, people are being invited to dip their toes in it, to kayak across its surface and so on.

Smart move. For if people associate water only with a turn of the tap, they take it for granted. Now, by getting them closer to the water and even in it, they will become more protective of the resource and guard against pollution.

And, perhaps more important, they become less likely to waste it.

Singapore may be in the centre of the South-east Asian rainforest zone. But with no hinterland of its own, it can never harvest enough water through conventional means.

Water self-sufficiency must be a creative enterprise - and so it is. For one thing, this means putting the right technology into infrastructure.

Less apparent - but all the more creative because of it - has been to involve residents directly with this important commodity through recreation.

It is by dint of such unconventional approaches that Singapore's water self-sufficiency appears safely within reach.

Related articles on Singapore: water issues
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