Singapore says major floods unlikely, taking precautions

Flash floods submerged parts of Orchard road during heavy rains in June last year.

SINGAPORE – Major floods such as those affecting Thailand are unlikely to occur in Singapore, but the city-state is taking additional precautions because of the dangers posed by climate change, Singapore’s top environment official said.

The island nation of 5.1 million people, the Asian base for many banks and multinational firms, is vulnerable to rising sea levels and a further increase in the intensity of tropical downpours.

“There are still people who do not believe in climate change. But I think the increasing weight of evidence suggests that something is going on and the only rational thing is to review all assumptions and norms,” Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Reuters in an interview.

Singapore, he said, has embarked on several initiatives to better protect itself against floods, including raising the height of reclaimed land by an additional 1 metre above sea level, widening and deepening drains and canals and getting building owners to improve their flood defences.

“It will be more expensive, more upfront cost, but you are buying insurance for the future,” he said.

Singapore is among a number of cities that face a high risk from rising sea levels, risk analysis firm Maplecroft said in a report last week.

While Singapore last experienced flooding that required authorities to evacuate people from their homes back in the 1970s, the city-state has become prone to flash floods that have damaged basement shops and carparks over the past two years.

On the morning of his interview with Reuters, roads in parts of the city-state’s financial district were partially submerged and people had to walk in ankle-deep water for a period of 10-15 minutes because the drains could not cope with the heavy downpour.

Balakrishnan said Singapore had embarked on large projects in the past 20 years to divert water from low-lying areas to reduce the risk of a major flood.

For example, the new Marina Barrage at the mouth of the Singapore River allows authorities to control water levels at Marina Bay, which is surrounded by offices, hotels and a multi-billion-dollar casino-resort.

FLASH FLOODS

“You are not going to get areas, like in Thailand, that are seriously inundated for weeks or months. That is extremely unlikely in Singapore,” he said.

He conceded, however, that authorities needed to improve the city-state’s defences against flash floods and said technological advances in wireless communications and the use of sensors would help shorten response time.

Looking ahead, Balakrishnan said the next round of climate talks in Durban, South Africa, starting later this month would not yield a broader, legally binding climate pact because of deep differences between rich and poor nations on how to share the burden of cuts in greenhouse gas pollution.

But he said it was essential the existing U.N. pact, the Kyoto Protocol, be extended into a second period. Failure to do so risked catastrophic collapse of the marathon talks aimed at ramping up efforts to fight climate change.

He expected the talks in Durban to yield agreement on boosting transparency of individual country pledges to curb emissions that scientists say are heating up the planet.

More broadly, he said incremental progress could be made so long as there is continued improvement in the global ambition to reduce emissions, that there is a proper system to audit those pledges and if rich nations continued to share cash and clean-energy technology with poorer states.

“One difference between the world in 1992 and the world of today is that young people all over the world are far more environmentally conscious,” he said, referring to the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, where nations adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol is part of the convention.

“I am actually hopeful that added pressure at the people sector level ... will give the final impetus to the political negotiations and end up hopefully in an agreement but this is not going to happen in December,” he said.