The Browning of Singapore – Time to Step Up

singapore drought
 
As you may have noticed, Singapore has been going through an unusually long dry spell. It hasn’t rained since mid-January, which makes this drought the lengthiest one on record. 
 
The most conspicuous and obvious sign of this is the browning of our natural environment. The leaves on the trees have turned brown, and so have the grass. They are or have wilted from the lack of water. Some have commented that it looks like autumn in Singapore – except that it is potentially more serious than the seasonal and natural shedding of leaves. 
 
Mother Nature, it seems, has abandoned her responsibilities.
 
There seems to be basically two concerns about the current dry season: a further increase in the number of dengue cases; and the shortage of water for human use.
 
The National Environment Agency (NEA) has voiced concerns that the amount of dead leaves may cause the incidents of dengue to increase. Singapore too has been going through a dengue outbreak the last two years or so. There have been several deaths from it so far. 
 
On Saturday, 8 March, the agency said that the number of breeding sites detected have risen from 30 in January to 250 in the middle of last month, when the dry spell was already underway. While the incidents of dengue have decreased in recent weeks, there are still 32 active clusters currently.
 
Dried leaves, if left on their own, may be a potential breeding ground for the Culex quinquefasciatus mosquitoes, which are potential disease-bearing carriers.
 
The NEA has therefore increased its collection of the dried leaves. It said that in February, “350 more tonnes of dry leaves were swept from the streets, filling up 70,000 bags.”
 
On the water front, the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, has said that although Singapore’s consumption has gone up by some 5 per cent during this dry season, there is "no operational need for rationing" in the foreseeable future.
 
"From our latest water demand figures,” Dr Vivian said last Friday, “we are currently consuming about 420 million gallons a day. Now if the demand figure continues to increase then certainly, I will have to re-evaluate the adequacy of our current plans."
 
While it is reassuring to know that Singapore has enough reserves in its water supply to perhaps last us this dry period, it is also perhaps prudent to see what we – whether as companies, businesses, or individuals – can do to help, in whatever small ways we can.
 
As individuals, we can recycle household water for other purposes, such as watering our plants, or even washing our floors. We should also limit using tap water to wash our cars, for instance.
 
We could also help with the environment around our community.
 
Jason Cai, for example, has joined the “Let It Rain” initiative.
 
let it rain in singapore
 
“Instead of asking what others can do to solve the problem, why not ask ourselves what are the little things that we can do to help the situation?” he wrote on his Facebook page.
 
Jason says that he uses recycled water from the washing of rice and fill plastic bottles with them.
 
He uses these to water the plants, trees and grass patches underneath his block of flats. 
 
singapore drought
 
“I may not be able to save all the trees and plants in the neighbourhood but at least I try to do something for 1 or 2 of them,” he says. “If more people can join me in this movement, I am sure we can achieve much more.”
 
Don’t scorn at the small effort which Jason has undertaken. Every bit helps. And what is also important is that in the process of doing these small things, we perhaps learn to appreciate not only the value of water, but also the natural environment around us which we often take for granted.
 
Besides individual effort, perhaps it is also time to mobilise the grassroots organisations in each housing estate to create awareness and encourage more people to conserve water.
 
When the haze descended on Singapore last year, we were caught by surprise at how bad it was, so much so that we were left with a national shortage of N95 masks for the initial period.
 
We should learn from that experience and not leave things to when they become bad.
 
Indeed, looking at the browning of our environment presently, things perhaps are bad enough – at least for the trees and grass, and even for some animal species. 
 
The grassroots are in the best position to fan out and raise awareness, just as they did during the SARs outbreak in 2003, and indeed during the haze as well.
 
The time to get people involved in conserving water is now, even as we are thankful that we have – for the moment – enough to last a while more.
 
Dr Balakrishnan said that he was “seriously considering a water rationing exercise - as a rehearsal - so Singaporeans know what to do during an actual event.”
Yes, perhaps we should start with that.
 
In the meantime, it is good to see those like Jason Cai taking the initiative and making the effort to do their parts.
 
We should all chip in and support such efforts.
 
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