While recently researching Singapore’s history in water management, I came upon an interesting fact. In the 1960s, Singapore was ranked 170th out of 190 countries in terms of water security. At that time, there was a population of 1.6 million and zero natural aquifers. Much of Singapore’s rivers and waterways were unfit for drinking, as the sewage system was inadequate. In addition, floods were very common. For a steady and safe supply of potable water, Singapore was heavily dependent on Malaysia.
Water Security in Singapore compared to Other Nations
Fast forward just 50 years later, and Singapore is not only on track to being water secure, but has gained international recognition for turning its perhaps greatest vulnerability to one of its strengths. With reclamation, catchment systems, proper flood control, adequate sewage drains, reverse osmosis treatment centres, and desalination plants, Singapore has greatly reduced its dependency on imported water despite a tripling of the population.
Of course, I can’t only credit Mr. Lee for all these accomplishments; there were many, many people who were responsible for this amazing achievement. But I do credit him for being benevolent and upstanding.
Many countries who ranked as being more water secure than Singapore in the 1960s, are still water insecure today. Why haven’t they changed? Some of these countries were led by corrupt leaders who were essentially bribed by corporations.
In many South American and South African nations, people’s access to safe drinking water comes in a can. Not a can of water, but a can of Coca-Cola. Coke essentially runs a monopoly in these areas. And while many people who rely on Coke as a source of water may not get Cholera, they will grow up with rotting teeth and diabetes.
Water in many of these nations has also been privatized by large corporations. And access is controlled.
Alternative Paths & How Far We’ve Come
Singapore could have easily fallen into this same trap, as many other nations have. In fact, there are many points in history that could have led to alternate and destructive pathways for Singapore.
Just take a look at any of the nearby countries. Sure, Singapore is not without problems and growing pains. And there will always be people who feel left out and abandoned by their government. But in general, our leaders have always tried to do what they believe is best for the people.
And what took the US hundreds of years to achieve, Singapore has surpassed it in just 5 decades (well within a person’s lifetime). I am referring to a recent report which ranked Singapore as #2 in competitiveness among global economies, ahead of the US, which ranked 3rd. There was also another report that listed Singapore as the 6th best country for a person to be born in (the US ranked #16, behind both Taiwan and Hong Kong). I believe that Singapore’s current success is due in large part to Former Prime Minister Lee’s leadership and policies. For that, I am very grateful. And today, I wish him a very Happy 91st Birthday.