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Preventing, managing floods together

Singapore authorities well prepared in dealing with storm water, but public needs to be more involved

Singapore is not insulated from the impact of climate change, with the annual average rainfall rising by 24 per cent between 1980 and 2014.

Severe weather events such as flooding may lead to losses of $28.6 billion in combined assets in Singapore by 2070, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Corroborating this alarming forecast, nearly 70 per cent of business sustainability practitioners across South-east Asia predict that their home country will continue to face extreme weather events over the next decade, taking a significant toll on local economies and infrastructure.

This is according to a study released last month by global pump leader Grundfos and sustainability-focused social enterprise Eco-Business Research, titled "Flood Controls in South-east Asia".

Despite this growing risk, a quarter of industry leaders here believe there is a lack of public concern about the impact climate change and extreme weather events will have on this island nation.

The study shows high confidence among industry leaders here in the Singapore Government's flood management capabilities - they are the most likely in the region to agree that their government possesses effective planning and adequate levels of funding.

Singapore authorities have been leading the way in flood management for years, using a holistic approach to manage storm water to mitigate flash floods.

This is thanks to the Source-Pathway-Receptor approach, where flood protection does not focus solely on drains and canals but also looks at slowing the accumulation of storm water at every stage, both upstream and downstream. This helps to avoid heavy rainfall from overwhelming our drainage infrastructure.

PUB, the national water agency, has also embraced some of the region's most intelligent practices in urban flood management, including installing a network of sensors throughout the country to pro-actively monitor water levels.

This effectiveness could explain why Singapore sustainability leaders seem the least concerned in the region about the impact of extreme weather events and climate change.

For this confidence in our flood control systems to prevail, the Government will need to regularly review the impact of climate change and enhance the flood mitigation solutions accordingly.

Most citizens tend to leave environmental protection and climate change mitigation in the hands of the government. This complacency is misplaced.

With climate change and urbanisation making flood management more challenging than ever, low-lying Singapore continues to be vulnerable to extreme weather events.

Between 2000 and 2015, Singapore witnessed more than $32.4 million worth of economic damage from floods alone.

CONSUMER LEVEL

In order to sustain our economic progress over the next 50 years, we must commit to focusing on climate change, beginning at the consumer level.

The study's respondents urge greater investment in education and outreach programmes to transform the environmental habits of citizens and businesses.

A way this can be done is to re-establish the relationship between local urban communities and natural landscapes.

Ensuring that man-made structures such as canals and water-retention areas look more natural and providing citizens access to them will be a step towards creating this connect.

Given that areas such as rivers and marshes can help reduce the impact of flooding by creating natural storage capacity, we should look at ways to conserve them. Integrating our drains and canals with the natural environment can help to manage rain as it falls, and quickly move storm water to the sea or nearest water body.

Singaporeans need to be educated to take ownership of the rivers and waterways, to work together to protect our flood mitigation measures.

Technology companies and the Government need to pro-actively work together on solutions to plan for flood mitigation.

Plus, education is not the job of the government alone. Industry players can work with local institutions on research and test-bed innovative solutions, to cultivate a mindset among the future generation where sustainability is not only a buzz word - but a way of living and doing business.

Looking ahead, we can build on Singapore's strong efforts in urban flood management by banking on consumers, the industry and the government working together to create more intelligent and sustainable solutions.

The writer is regional business 
director of water utility at Grundfos in the Asia Pacific region.

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