Water conservation in Singapore

by Lim, Tin Seng

As an island that lacks natural water resources and land for water storage facilities, Singapore is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world.1 To overcome these limitations, the city-state employs a multipronged strategy to ensure a sustainable water supply. A key part of the strategy is the national water conservation campaigns spearheaded by the Public Utilities Board (PUB), which aim to inculcate water conservation awareness in the people of Singapore.2

First water conservation campaign
The first water conservation campaign was introduced in May 1971, at a time when Singapore was facing the threat of water rationing after a prolonged dry spell.Launched by then PUB chairman Lim Kim San, the campaign aimed to encourage the public to take voluntary actions to reduce water consumption so that water rationing could be averted. Some of the recommended actions included refraining from washing things under a running tap and reusing the water from washing for other purposes such as flushing the toilet, cleaning the floor and washing the windows.4

Th
e campaign had a positive effect as the public responded by cutting down its daily water usage. This helped tide the country over the dry spell without the need for water rationing.5 To maintain the momentum, PUB continued to appeal to the public to conserve water. It promoted water-saving ideas such as bathing no more than once a day, putting a brick in the toilet cistern, and using buckets instead of hoses when washing vehicles. Appeals were also sent directly to consumers with high water usage, while all PUB bills incorporated the reminder, “Water is precious. Don’t waste it”.In addition, PUB began meting out fines to those caught wasting water.7

Subsequent water conservation campaigns
Following the success of the first water conservation campaign, the PUB decided to launch a second one in December 1972 to inculcate in the population that water was a precious commodity, and that water-saving habits should be a way of life rather than a short-term effort like reacting to a threat such as a dry spell or water rationing
.8

To mark the start of the second campaign, PUB held the weeklong Water is Precious exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall. The exhibition highlighted water-related facts such as the water production process in Singapore, the rising trend of water consumption and the costs of water production on the island.Posters featuring water-saving tips and messages such as “Don’t wash your car like fighting a fire”, “Water is more precious than gold, silver and wealth” and “Water is our life” were also displayed in the exhibition. Some of these messages were conveyed using humour and cartoons – a first for PUB’s campaigns.10 After its run at the Victoria Memorial Hall, the exhibition became a travelling showcase in the heartlands. It was one of the main features of water conservation campaigns of the 1970s. The campaigns during the decade also saw water-saving messages being communicated to the public through various channels including the radio and television, as well as publicity materials such as posters, leaflets and stickers.11 In 1973, a mascot called Bobo the Water Saving Elephant was introduced. Besides appearing in advertisements for PUB, the mascot also had a television cartoon series that taught children to save water.12

In 1981, PUB formed the Water Conservation Unit, which enhanced the water-saving campaigns. Other than managing water demand, the unit also took on the task of educating the public on saving water. To do so, it organised school and public talks, visits to waterworks, as well as travelling exhibitions and creative competitions. Its water conservation messages were also woven into the school syllabus, and a water conservation course was introduced in secondary schools to help students understand Singapore’s water challenges.13 The main campaign was rebranded with the tagline “Let’s Not Waste Precious Water” and launched in 1981.14 The campaign was a regular fixture throughout the 1980s. Its water-saving messages – such as “Let’s Save Precious Water”, “Use Water Wisely” and “Turn it off. Don’t Use Water Like There’s No Tomorrow” – were pushed out to the public using attractive posters and other mass media tools.15

During the 1990s, PUB continued with the same strategies in its water conservation campaigns. Nationwide activities were also held to expand the reach of its campaigns. For instance, as part of the 1995 campaign, PUB conducted six water-rationing exercises islandwide. Involving households from some 20 constituencies, each daylong exercise saw the water supply of participating households disrupted for up to 14 hours.16 The aim of this unusual exercise was to allow the public to experience the difficulties and inconveniences of water shortage. It was thought that they would then learn about the value of water and take action to conserve it.17

Water conservation campaigns from the 2000s
In 2005, the water conservation campaign had a new mascot – a grinning blue water droplet known as Water Wally. The mascot helped PUB spread its water messages by reaching out to the masses, especially the young, on how everyone could play their part in water sustainability by conserving water and keeping the waterways clean.18


Armed with the new mascot, PUB continued its water conservation messages with its annual water-saving campaigns. It also began to diversify its messages to include other aspects such as the processes involved in making Singapore’s water clean and how the nation was able to diversify its water supply and achieve sustainability through the Four National Taps strategy.19

Throughout the 2000s, the water agency increased its online presence by posting videos, infographics and posts carrying water messages in social media channels such as YouTube and Facebook.20 To create more even platforms to engage the public, PUB launched Singapore World Water Day in 2008. Held annually on 22 March to coincide with the United Nations’ World Water Day, the event was filled with many activities such as roadshows, exhibitions, door-to-door engagements and games. Meanwhile, it continued to hold water conservation activities. In 2006, it launched the 10-litre challenge to encourage every individual to reduce daily water consumption by that amount.21 During the 2019 “Make Every Drop Count” water-saving campaign, the PUB, together with Better Trails, an outdoor recreation company, held a water-rationing camp at Marina Reservoir. The camp allowed families to experience surviving on only five litres of water for 12 hours overnight.22

Impact on water consumption
Since the launch of the first water conservation campaign in 1971, daily water consumption in Singapore households has been on a downward trend. In 1976, for instance, Singapore’s daily per capita domestic water consumption was about 263 litres.23 By 2010, this had dropped to conservation in Singapore 154 litres, before reaching 141 litres in 2019. The PUB’s target was to reduce the country’s daily per capita water consumption to 130 litres by 2030.24

While water conservation campaigns have played a part in reducing the country’s domestic daily water consumption, there were also other factors involved including the introduction of water-related schemes and awards such as the Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme, Water Closet Replacement Programme and the Water Efficiency Awards. These are in addition to a water pricing system that penalises households that use water excessively and incentivising others to cut back on their water usage by giving a discount on their water bill.25




Author
Lim Tin Seng



References
1. PUB. (2016). Our water, our future. Singapore: PUB, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 333.910095957 OUR); Tortajada, C., Joshi, Y. K., & Biswas, A. K. (2013). The Singapore water story: Sustainable development in an urban city-state. New York, NY: Routledge, p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 363.61095957 TOR)
2. PUB. (2019, October 22). Singapore water story. Retrieved from PUB website: https://www.pub.gov.sg/watersupply/singaporewaterstory
3. S’pore may introduce water rationing. (1971, May 4). The Straits Times, p. 7; These are the seven zones for the PUB water rationing scheme. (1971, May 9). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore. Water Department. (1972). Annual report 1971. Singapore: Public Utilities Board, p. 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 628.1 SIN); PUB. (2014). Annual report 2012/2013, p. 51. Retrieved from PUB website: https://www.pub.gov.sg/annualreports/annualreport2013.pdf
4. Chia, P. (1971, May 12). A reprieve – if you helpThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; PUB. (2014). Annual report 2012/2013, p. 51. Retrieved from PUB website at: https://www.pub.gov.sg/annualreports/annualreport2013.pdf
5. Chia, P. (1971, June 5). Water: Three records in five daysThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Now PUB acts to cut garage water waste. (1971, May 13). New Nation, p. 1; Chia, P. (1971, May 13). ‘Don’t waste water’ plea gets good public responseThe Straits Times, p. 1; Chia, P. (1971, May 14). Thank you and keep it up! The Straits Times, p. 1; Chia, P. (1971, May 15). Keep it up… The Straits Times, p. 1; Water use up again after three-day drop. (1971, June 3). The Straits Times, p. 4; Chia, P. (1971, June 9). Use of water stays below 100 millionThe Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Chia, P. (1971, May 28). PUB warns of action against water waste. The Straits Times, p. 8; Wasting water: PUB officers act. (1971, May 30). The Straits Times, p. 1; First ‘waste water’ fine. (1971, June 5). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Campbell, B. (1972, December 4). Every precious drop counts: Long-term plan to inculcate water-saving habitsThe Straits Times, p. 14; Save Water drive is a success. (1973, November 11). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9
Exhibition to boost save water campaign. (1972, November 28). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Campbell, B. (1972, November 28). The lighter side of Save Water campaignThe Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Save Water drive is a success. (1973, November 11). The Straits Times, p. 4; Water use rises despite warning. (1976, February 11). New Nation, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Teng, A. (2016, October 1). Mascots and their messagesThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Tan, Y. S., Lee, T. J., & Tan, K. (2009). Clean, green and blue: Singapore’s journey towards environment and water sustainability. Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, pp. 164–165. (Call no.: RSING 363.70095957 TAN); Siau, M. E. (2017, March 11). How S’pore’s water conservation message got diluted by recent successes. Today. Retrieved from Today website: https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/price-success-how-spores-water-conservation-message-got-diluted
14, Tortajada, C., Joshi, Y. K., & Biswas, A. K. (2013). The Singapore water story: Sustainable development in an urban city-state. New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 115–116. (Call no.: RSING 363.61095957 TOR)
15. PUB. (2014). Annual report 2012/2013, p. 51. Retrieved from PUB website: https://www.pub.gov.sg/annualreports/annualreport2013.pdf
16. Tortajada, C., Joshi, Y. K., & Biswas, A. K. (2013). The Singapore water story: Sustainable development in an urban city-state. New York, NY: Routledge, p. 119. (Call no.: RSING 363.61095957 TOR)
17. Ministry of Information and the Arts. (1995, June 24). Address by Mr Yeo Cheow Tong, Minister for Trade and Industry, at the launch of the National Save Water Campaign 1995 on Saturday, 24 June 1995 at 9.30am. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
18. Elangovan, N. (2019, March 19). To build a strong water-saving culture, S’pore needs more than recycled messages. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Channel NewsAsia website: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singapore-world-water-day-pub-water-wally-conservation-reservoir-11354350; PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency. (2018, June 13). PUB Water Wally. Retrieved from PUB website: https://www.pub.gov.sg/about/waterwally
19.  PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency. (2018). Four National Taps. Retrieved from PUB website: https://www.pub.gov.sg/watersupply/fournationaltaps
20. Elangovan, N. (2019, March 19). To build a strong water-saving culture, S’pore needs more than recycled messages. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Channel NewsAsia website: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singapore-world-water-day-pub-water-wally-conservation-reservoir-11354350; PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency. (2019, February 22). About SWWD. Retrieved from PUB website: https://www.pub.gov.sg/SWWD/about
21. Elangovan, N. (2019, March 19). To build a strong water-saving culture, S’pore needs more than recycled messages. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Channel NewsAsia website: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singapore-world-water-day-pub-water-wally-conservation-reservoir-11354350; Tortajada, C., Joshi, Y. K., & Biswas, A. K. (2013). The Singapore water story: Sustainable development in an urban city-state. New York, NY: Routledge, p. 100. (Call no.: RSING 363.61095957 TOR)
22. Elangovan, N. (2019, March 19). To build a strong water-saving culture, S’pore needs more than recycled messages. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Channel NewsAsia website: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singapore-world-water-day-pub-water-wally-conservation-reservoir-11354350
23. Consumption of water on the rise in Singapore. (1977, February 27). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore. (2012). Water: From scarce resource to national asset. Singapore: Public Utilities Board, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 333.91095957 WAT); PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency. (2020, March 9). Make every drop count: Continuing Singapore’s water success [Press release]. Retrieved from PUB website: https://www.pub.gov.sg/news/pressreleases/MakeEveryDropCountContinuingSingaporesWaterSuccess
25. Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore. (2012). Water: From scarce resource to national asset. Singapore: Public Utilities Board, pp. 19–21. (Call no.: RSING 333.91095957 WAT); Siau, M. E. (2017, March 21). Water pricing based on household size, usage a better system: ExpertToday, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tortajada, C., Joshi, Y. K., & Biswas, A. K. (2013). The Singapore water story: Sustainable development in an urban city-state. New York, NY: Routledge, p. 92. (Call no.: RSING 363.61095957 TOR)



The information in this article is valid as at 26 April 2021 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

 

Subject
Water conservation programmes
Water conservation--Singapore
Water conservation--Singapore--History

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