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  Straits Times 16 Apr 07
Singapore won't be parched, thanks to Newater
Yaacob Ibrahim also calls for less use of plastic bags
By Lynn Lee

SINGAPORE is confident it can face up to the threat of global warming - and not suffer from any water shortage.

Its trump card: Newater. 'Newater is from you and me. It is independent of rainfall,' said Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday.

He was referring to how Singapore has harnessed technology to turn used water into drinkable water, to give the country a new and added source of water supply.

With this discovery, 'we are confident that we will not have a drought problem', he said.

Dr Yaacob gave this assurance to about 200 Tampines residents at a dialogue, after a three-hour tour of Tampines Central ward, where he viewed musical performances and an exhibition on recycling. It was part of the walkabout series for ministers to get better acquainted with the needs and concerns of residents in various constituencies. Dr Yaacob was accompanied by Tampines GRC MPs, including National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan.

A Tampines grassroots leader, Mr Jasni Mohd Babu, 48, had raised the issue, asking how Singapore would deal with global warming, which has caused drought in a growing number of countries.

This climate change occurs when gases like carbon dioxide, released through burning of oil for energy, gets trapped in the atmosphere, causing temperatures to rise. As a result, drought is commonplace in such areas as the Australian state of Queensland, which is now trying to produce its own Newater.

Newater was a major breakthrough for Singapore, becoming its 'fourth tap' after its supply from Johor, water catchment areas and desalination.

Green issues appeared to be close to the heart of the residents who spent the better part of the hour-long dialogue quizzing Dr Yaacob also on the use of plastic bags and preserving Singapore's reservoirs.

One resident asked why plastic bags, useful for bagging trash, seemed to be discouraged. She pointed to a recent campaign by the National Environment Agency encouraging shoppers to bring their own shopping bags.

Dr Yaacob replied: 'Let me set the record straight. We have nothing against plastic bags. What we are against is the over-consumption of them.'

Quoting official figures, he said Singapore used 2.5 billion plastic bags last year. That works out to about 600 plastic bags per person. It has led to a littering problem that can deteriorate into a dengue threat, said Dr Yaacob.

Small plastic bags, which could not be reused to bag trash, were thrown away, sometimes turning into receptacles for breeding mosquitoes.

Litter was also uppermost on the mind of another resident who was concerned that letting people use the reservoirs for recreation would lead to pollution of the water. 'Are people up to it?' she asked.

Dr Yaacob said it was a 'risk' he and the PUB, which maintains Singapore's network of water bodies, were prepared to take.

Under a new programme to bring people closer to the water, Singapore's 14 reservoirs, 32 major rivers and more than 7,000km of canals and drains, will be getting a makeover. The aim is to transform them into recreation and water sports areas.

Dr Yaacob believes that the only way to get Singaporeans to keep the bodies of water clean is to let them use it. 'If you are in the water canoeing or kayaking, you will realise that this is your drinking water, and I hope it will cause you to think before you litter.' lynnlee@sph.com.sg

Related articles on Singapore: water issues, re-creation in our wild places and plastic bags
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