Saving water: Go beyond tackling costs to enhance public education

TOH EE MING Today Online 4 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE — Getting Singaporeans to cut down on their water usage should not be done through a “carrot-and-stick” approach alone, green groups here said, as they called for more concerted, long-term efforts to help the population learn to be more caring towards the resource.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced in his Budget speech that water prices would rise by 30 per cent from July 2018, with the first of two rounds of water price hikes to kick in this July. Responding to the outcry over this move, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said in Parliament on Wednesday (March 1) that water has to be priced fully as it is a matter of national security, and consumers “must feel the price of water” to realise its value.

However, when it comes to getting people to treat water as a precious resource, Mr Tan Yi Han, co-founder of non-governmental organisation People’s Movement to Stop Haze, called for new ways to tackle the issue and not just to increase cost. He bemoaned that public education on water conservation is still quite “lacking” here, and suggested that environmental groups offer “targeted advice” and tips that people may readily adopt.

“(It’s not effective) to tell someone who is already taking short showers to cut down even more,” Mr Tan said. “Rather, give them advice on buying the right kind of washing machine, or new technologies to adopt at home which can (significantly cut down) on water usage.”

He also suggested having water-rationing exercises, because its proven educational value outweighed its inconvenience.

“The Government has to decide ... if stronger interventions like (water rationing) are needed to change behaviour ... because the risk is that even if you increase the price, people might not change their ways… so the same amount of water continues to be used,” he added.

The older generation in Singapore would know the value of water because they had to face water scarcity in the early days of the country’s development, one observer said, adding that the younger generation did not have to face such callenges. Dr Adil Dhalla, deputy director of the Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University, said: “The biggest misconception (the younger generation has) is that water-saving habits are just ‘nice to do’, when they are absolutely vital to the nation’s water security, and should be inculcated as part of our behavioural DNA.”

Singaporeans who spoke to TODAY expressed grudging acceptance towards having to pay more for water, though many said that they did not plan to change their habits because they felt they were already not using much water.

Mr Shawn Lim, 29, an army personnel who lives in a four-room flat and who pays about $50 monthly for water, does not intend to cut down on consumption. “We can’t change a lot. We still need to use a certain amount daily so (imposing prices) might not change the way people behave,” he said.

System analyst Vincent Tan, 59, who has four people in his household living in a maisonette unit and whose monthly utility bill is about $100, already has a habit of saving water where possible. “The water-rationing exercises in the past impacted us and we remember how precious the water was… But now, our Government keeps talking about NEWater, or desalination plants, so the people, like the young, become complacent and think that we have enough, so they don’t need to worry.”

While water-rationing might seem “drastic”, it could instil a sense of urgency, he added. “If you ask them to pay another S$20 to S$30, it might not make such a difference to them, people get used to it and will start wasting water again.”

Certainly, the price hike is not an issue with sales specialist Tan Han Yang, 27, because his parents foot the utility bills. He said: “For our parents, water was a privilege ... but for the younger generation, water (has been coming) readily from the tap as far as we know ... so they just go about (thinking), ‘I don’t need to save water, and I’m just going to continue with my life’.”


Singapore must be prepared to face water shortages: DPM Teo
Nur Afifah Ariffin Channel NewsAsia 4 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE: Singapore must be prepared psychologically to face water shortages if its reservoirs dry up and when the second water agreement with Malaysia ends in 2061, said DPM Teo Chee Hean on Saturday (Mar 4).

At present, imported water meets half of Singapore’s water needs. But water levels in Johor’s Linggiu Reservoir are falling. There is also the danger of prolonged dry weather, Mr Teo said.

As such, water has been a strategic priority for Singapore.

Speaking to 4,000 people at the launch of the Singapore World Water Day on Saturday morning, Mr Teo said the Government has invested heavily to develop local water sources like expanding water catchment areas and deploying new technologies.

“We have been fortunate over the past few years to benefit from advances in technology – NEWater and membrane-based desalination. These alternative water resources are not dependent on rainfall and have helped to supplement our traditional water resources,” he said.

Singapore has invested about S$430 million per year in water infrastructure since 2000. This will double to S$800 million per year over the next five years.

HOW MUCH DOES WATER COST IN SINGAPORE?

A 330ml bottle of water, which one can get from any supermarket, costs less than S$1. In contrast, that same amount of money will pay for 1,000 bottles of clean water from the tap after the full water price increase of 30 per cent has been phased in over the next two years.

“Our price of water from your tap is comparable to that in major cities. Many of them have large rivers and lakes to draw from. We have none of these natural sources of our own. According to the World Resources Institute, if we just left things to nature, we are the most water-stressed country in the world,” said DPM Teo.

Singapore's efforts to ensure its people have water have shown the country's resilience and determination to survive and thrive, he added.

- CNA/dl


MP calls on Govt to prevent profiteering from water fee hike
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 5 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE — Bring back a committee against profiteering to ensure that establishments such as coffee shops do not profiteer by raising prices using water fee hikes as an excuse, Member of Parliament (Nee Soon GRC) Lee Bee Wah said on Sunday (March 5).

Speaking to reporters after a residents’ dialogue with Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, Ms Lee said: “I’d like to urge the Government, especially the Ministry of Trade and Industry, to look into cases where coffee shops increase prices now.”

The ministry could investigate whether any increases since the water price hikes were announced on Feb 20 were justifiable, said Ms Lee, who noted that water prices were going up in two phases only on July 1 this year and next.

Such a committee was previously set up in 1994 to look into complaints and feedback on establishments that were allegedly profiteering by using increases in Goods and Services Tax as an excuse.

“It’s timely to activate the committee so that residents can use WhatsApp to feed back, and it can go investigate,” said Ms Lee, echoing a call by fellow MP Lim Biow Chuan during the Budget debate.

If checks on any coffee shops that raised prices after Feb 20 are not done, then other businesses may follow suit, added Ms Lee, who termed price increases of even 10 cents for coffee on the basis of higher water prices as “too much”.

This is because the 30 per cent increase in water prices translates into users paying 60 cents more per 1,000 litres of water, which is enough for about 5,000 cups of coffee, she said.

At the dialogue at Nee Soon South Community Club, which took place before an International Women’s Day health talk in the constituency, Mr Shanmugam highlighted the need for Singapore to balance expenditure and income.

“In every country, people want to pay less tax, and they want more from the Government. But it doesn’t work ... In the end, we have to pay for what we use,” he said.

“We use the money very carefully, but after 2020, if you look at the pattern — government expenditure is high, health care, social welfare and so on, housing — we have to find ways of increasing the income.”

He noted that the Government’s expenditure exceeds its operating revenue. The returns on Singapore’s reserves supplement the annual Budget through the Net Investment Returns Contribution.

Singaporeans must continue working hard because the country has no oil or other natural resources to tap, he said.

“This is why the Government has told the people we have to work together, number one. Number two, we have to work very hard. There’s no choice for Singapore,” said Mr Shanmugam.

“People say we can relax, we’re now a First World country, we tax the rich and we pay for everybody else. But why would the rich stay here if they can go somewhere else? How much can you tax the rich? So we all have to work hard.”

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