Singapore’s concern over water situation in Johor

singaporeSINGAPORE: The water agreement between Singapore and Malaysia may come under greater strain in future, largely due to climate change.

Today, roughly 40 per cent of Singapore’s water needs are met by water from Malaysia, compared with 80 per cent at independence in 1965.

But the situation is changing, with Singapore being asked to do something that was unthinkable a few years ago: supply water to Johor on at least two occasions.

With greater development taking place in Johor, an increase in local demand and Malaysia’s somewhat poor water conservation efforts, Singapore should be concerned about what happens in Johor, says a comment piece in Today Online.

“Drought conditions – likely to become more pronounced with the changing climate – converged in 2015 to 2016 with increased water usage and pollution in Johor to challenge the foundation of the bilateral water partnership,” write Jackson Ewing and and Karissa Domondon.

Ewing is Director of Asian Sustainability and Domondon is an intern at the Asia Society Policy Institute, Asia Society.

They observe that as with much of Malaysia, Johor has historically been water-abundant and receives an average annual rainfall of 1,778mm per year.

However, water usage in the state is expanding substantially and, when coinciding with drought, has led to serious shortages.

“The domestic political considerations and diplomatic underpinnings of water pricing in this cross-border region were already tenuous, and growing water stresses may well make them more so.

“Responding to this situation will require regulatory diligence and clear-minded diplomacy by the authorities in Johor and Singapore as well as in Kuala Lumpur.

“Specifically, it is in Singapore’s interest to continue its collaboration with Malaysia on Johor’s catchment management, given its dependence and its considerable experience in the sector,” they argue.

But, they point out, Singapore has done quite well over the years to tackle the water issue.

Saying diversifying imports to include sources from Riau, Indonesia, was not beyond imagination, they add that this has been made less likely by the island’s progress in its domestic water sector.

“The country invested significantly in technologies and systems for converting wastewater and seawater into useable forms and improving catchment storage. The results are striking: Treated wastewater (NEWater) now accounts for 30 per cent of Singapore’s total freshwater needs and desalinated water 10 per cent; and Singapore’s water catchment area has increased to two-thirds of the country’s land surface, from 11 per cent in 1970,” they say.

Singapore, they point out, has set a target for water self-sufficiency by 2061 — not farfetched, given the pace of technological innovations.

Until then, it will continue to depend on Johor for water, and until then it will be concerned about what happens to water resources in Johor, and Malaysia.