Dry spell: S'pore has 'margin' of water safety

SINGAPORE - The prolonged dry weather is expected to continue for "at least another two or three weeks", Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

But while "we cannot be sure how prolonged this dry spell will be", he reassured Singaporeans that the country's water technology means it will be fine "no matter how long this goes on, whether the next few weeks or the next few months".

Singapore's investments in desalination and Newater - high- grade reclaimed water - are paying off, he said at a school event at Marina Barrage, "giving us a safety margin which today we are tapping".

These two sources together are able to meet 55 per cent of the Republic's water demand - about 400 million gallons a day (mgd) on average - regardless of how much rain falls.

Because of this, he does not currently foresee a need for water rationing, which was last seen here during a drought in the 1960s. He also ruled out cloud-seeding, saying it would have little effect on an island as small as Singapore.

Reservoirs and water imported from Malaysia are Singapore's two other sources of water.

The Republic has seen barely any rain over the past 11/2 months, in one of its longest-ever dry spells. National water agency PUB is now pumping 35 million gallons of Newater a day into reservoirs to maintain water levels.

Even so, Singapore's water technology "is not limitless", said Dr Balakrishnan. He stressed the importance of conserving water, noting that daily consumption has gone up by about 4 per cent during this period.

The immediate plan is to reduce consumption.

PUB is issuing 25,000 advisories to heavy water users, while households will be given water-saving tips. Town councils will also be told to use less water for cleaning.

"We do need to conserve water and to understand that the good fortune that we have now has not come cheaply, has not come easily," said Dr Balakrishnan.

Singapore's demand for water is expected to double to nearly 800 mgd by around 2060. The second agreement to import water from Malaysia expires in 2061.

The minister added: "You only need to look at the region to understand that people are suffering and are having to confront this brutal reality (of water shortage). It is a good reminder for us that we need to prepare well in advance."

Across the border, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor have already begun rationing water, and Johor could soon follow as Malaysia endures one of its longest dry spells in years. A draft United Nations report yesterday also warned that the droughts hitting the region could reduce crop harvests and cause food prices to spike.

Already, the price of palm oil, the world's most-used edible oil and one of the most important crops in South-east Asia, is surging as the weather hampers production.

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