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Insider unveils Singapore's successful Water Story

09 April 2013

Mr Tan sharing at the Institute for Engineering Leadership's Distinguished Speaker Series about Singapore's success story in water management

How did Singapore embark on its journey of becoming self-sufficient in water, a critical resource that means the lifeline of a nation?

Mr Tan Gee Paw, Chairman of the Public Utilities Board (PUB), the agency responsible for the national water strategy, painted a vivid picture of Singapore's transformation to "A Little Blue Dot" at the NUS Institute for Engineering Leadership's Distinguished Speaker Series held on 3 April. The insider story captivated an audience of 200 staff and students, invited guests, industry representatives and policy-makers.

Mr Tan, an NUS alumnus who has been deeply involved in the initiation and implementation of PUB's plans, shared Singapore's evolution from a water-scarce country with polluted rivers and waterways to one lauded for its water management initiatives with a burgeoning water industry.

He attributed this success to Singapore's engineering systems approach, which views a large and complex problem from all angles including non-technical factors such as economics, policy and social considerations. Taking such a holistic outlook also led to innovative solutions such as the recycling and treatment of used water to NEWater, reclaimed water pure enough for drinking and industrial use.

Singapore's success in water management was also the result of the political push and national focus in this area, he stressed. A country may have the technology but not the political will; it also may not be at the stage of development where the outcome can be replicated.

This systems thinking pursuit has also fuelled PUB's search around the world for ideas. Mr Tan opined that Singapore is too small to rely only on itself as it lacks the critical mass to generate radical solutions and breakthrough ideas. As such, PUB's experts are tasked to "search the horizon".

An engineer by training, Mr Tan shared with the audience how the water industry had developed in tandem with Singapore's water management initiatives, resulting in a doubling of companies in this field since 2006. The lesson from Singapore's water story shows that a systems thinking approach was the key to unlocking opportunities, sustainable growth and wealth creation.

By Institute for Engineering Leadership