drought 2014 drought 2014-2

The grasses are wilting in a green Singapore. The rain refuses to fall and Singapore is experiencing the longest drought ever recorded in history. We haven’t had rain since mid of January (although with a few minutes shower for 2 or 3 days which really do not count towards rain) and that’s already 2 months till now. The reservoirs are drying up. It’s a rare phenomenon.


Lower Seletar Reservoir is drying up fast…

Singapore, being a country without natural resource, imports its waters from her neighbour, Malaysia, for 100 years ending 2061. This is a water treaty between us set with good foresight. When this lapse in less than 50 years time, Malaysia has no obligation to supply water to Singapore. That is really scary. We should never be relying solely on others for something so vital for survival.

Being blessed with good political leaders and hardworking citizens, we developed our own water treatment of turning sewage water to drinking water using the technology of microfiltration, reverse osmosis and UV disinfection. We were put on the world map with our advance first-of-a-kind water treatment technology, passing more than 100,000 scientific tests and surpassing WHO requirements to produce NEwater. It is mainly for industrial purpose and a small percentage pumped into reservoirs to supply our drinking water. But recently due to the drought, NEWater is pumped in much more volume into our reservoirs to top up the water.

NEWater was met with much ridicule in the beginning.  Many poke fun of this clever self-sustainable water resource as mockery messages made their rounds through the Internet and the then SMS before watsapp and Facebook were popular. In fact some people swear never to drink it. Now, with a drought coming and even Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur is having a water ration, I wonder how many still find it funny that Singapore drinks from treated sewage water. Siting wiki source, the quality of NEWater consistently exceeds the requirements set by USEPA and WHO guidelines and ironically is cleaner than Singapore’s other water sources. So, who still shuns NEwater in Singapore today? I don’t, since day 1.

To make the drought worse, the annual burning of crops in Indonesia around this time of the year carries the dreaded haze to Singapore. This year’s haze comes really early. Towards the end of February, we could already sniff the burnt grass smell. Last year, we had a record 401 on the PSI reading which almost shut down the schools if not for it happening in the June school holidays! It was really terrible! Everyone had to put on a mask and many were wearing the N95 mask known to filter out 95% of airborne particles. Since N95 masks are uncomfortable and do not fit the small faces of kids, the little ones suffered the most. With weeks of hazy skies and bad quality air, we realize that we took fresh air for granted.

These few days, the wind decides to change direction and blows the haze towards Singapore. That’s no way to escape these harmful air particles. Malaysia is now having PSI reading of near 300 for some parts and Singapore is starting to see its reading near 100.

When it gets to PSI >50, we start to feel the dryness in our throat.  Our eyes get irritated. Cough and cold symptoms begin to emerge.

When it gets to PSI >100, we avoid bringing our kids to outdoor play, not even taking them for walks for fear of too much exposure to the haze.

When it gets even worse to PSI >150, we close our doors and windows to minimize the outside air into the house. We switch on the air-conditioner for longer period and switch on the air purifier. Electrical consumption goes up. With the drought, water consumption goes up as well. Everyone is inconvenienced. We all hate it.

If only we have a really, really BIG FAN to blow the haze back to its origin!

Despite lots of negotiation, efforts and offer of help from our government towards the source country of this annual burning of wide areas of land, the haze just got worse with each passing year. Singaporeans and Malaysians are the worst affected ones. Apart from venting our frustration online, in the coffee shops, and swearing in your own bathroom, there is nothing much we can do to make the burning practice stop.

Well, as a mum, I treat this annual “disaster” a precious lesson to teach my kids.  We all ought to teach our young on the importance of environmental care. I talked to my kids on the situation in our country right now. I gave them a national education on how precious water is in our country and they were in awe of Singapore’s achievements in our own survival. I told them we have to do our part to save our earth and teach them how to do that. We are lucky to have no natural calamity in our country. We are well-protected by our excellent geographical location. We never knew haze could be the next closest thing to a “natural disaster” here. Here’s what I teach them to do:

Save water
1) All kids love to splash water around and play in the bathroom. When XX and YH are unusually quiet in the bathroom, I know they’ll be putting soap all over a cup, scrubbing the walls or experimenting science by overturning a water-filled cup topped with a piece of paper. Now is certainly not a time for wasting water. They will be happy enough to limit their water play to the public swimming pool.

2) Recycle water anywhere in the daily house chores. Be it watering plants, mopping floor, washing school shoes, we can use recycled water to help save precious water.
Now, our Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Vivian Balakrisknan, is seriously considering water rationing exercises as a public education even though these are not operational necessity. I support his decision 100% if water rationing is done! I have never gone through a water rationing exercise myself. My parents did. It will be a perfect way to send the message of not taking tap water for granted. By having all of us, especially the young, go through the long queues of getting limited pails of water, the important message of water as a precious resource will stay with us for a long time.

Save the air
The annual haze affair is a very real life lesson to experience everyday, every minute, every second. We all need to breathe! Donning the mask is an inconvenience and many people couldn’t go about their daily routine like walking the dog, exercise, playing in outdoors. We had taken the clean air in clean Singapore for granted. We never knew how it is for Beijing and Shanghai to be constantly enshroud in low visibility and bad quality air. Now we know. The kids had a lesson from me about how air pollution endangers health. We talked about the factories emitting smoke and are regulated to emit only treated fumes. Vehicles need to run on clean petrol. The many alternative ways of making land crops fertile. And why palm oil as an ingredient in many food and things is one of the main culprit of this haze!

Water and Air are 2 basic vital elements for LIFE. On the political level, they are used as pawns on the negotiation table. For kids, they are just water to drink and air to breathe. Kids do not know what has been gone through to get the kind of water we are drinking today and the kind of fresh air we are breathing everyday without haze.

I am writing this post for my kids to re-visit when they are old enough to understand. I want them to know how far Singapore has come to reach today’s success in self-sustainable water resource and the challenges to just be able to breathe fresh air.