Transform drains into rivers says Singapore
On a pleasant morning by the river, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outlined plans to transform the waterways of the island nation. The country has made news in the past for its advancements in water reclamation and desalination. NEWater has become a brand name associated with Singapore. In what is considered a ringing endorsement of Singapore’s policies, drought-ridden Australia is planning to follow the NEWater model to produce drinking water for its citizens.
What’s new this time is Singapore’s plan to turn utilitarian infrastructural assets such as drains, canals and reservoirs into beautiful and clean streams, rivers and lakes that are open for the public to enjoy. Until now, many of the country’s 14 reservoirs were protected areas and bore signs such as “No Fishing” and water sports were unheard-of. “Now, we will bring people closer to water so that they will enjoy and cherish it more,” said Mr Lee. Two years back, the construction of Marina Barrage was started – a S$226 million project to build a barrier across the Marina Channel and create Singapore’s 15th reservoir in the heart of the city. This reservoir will help to increase the catchment area from half to two-thirds of Singapore by 2009. The barrage will also help to alleviate flooding in the low-lying areas of the city. But what Singaporeans really look forward to is the chance to engage in sports such as kayaking, water surfing and boating in the new water bodies being created.
The concrete-lined canals of Singapore are about to make way for a softer look with grassy embankments and landscaped features. Water curtains, artificially created rivulets, fountains and footbridges will be created to enable residents to touch and play with water. “Native plant species will be re-introduced along the river, as an extension of the nearby nature reserves,” said Mr Lee. The Prime Minister urged the citizens to keep litter out of the waterways in order to enjoy the benefits of living near waterfronts.
An interesting feature to watch out for is the re-circulating of water from downstream to upstream of major rivers in order to prevent stagnation and to enhance the aesthetics of the waterscape.
It is perhaps ironic to observe that in most Asian countries, major rivers are turning into sewers carrying foul industrial and municipal wastes. Once-beautiful rivers such as the Yamuna in India on the banks of which kings built several monuments including the Taj Mahal are now decaying, dead rivers. Among China’s seven major rivers, five are seriously polluted. Little attempt has been made in these countries to transform the river banks into clean, green recreational spaces.
Yet, here in Singapore where there are no rivers in the strict sense, they are being created. Unlike India’s Ganga or China’s Yang-Tse, which originate from icy glaciers and get a perennial supply of water, here the rivers are actually backwaters – intrusions of the seawater into land. But the country is making the most of whatever it has.
Nowhere are rivers worshipped and included in traditions as much as in the Buddhist and Hindu cultures of Asia. It is a paradox that the rivers in these very cultures are suffering the worst of urban excesses. It is time to reclaim these rivers from the sewers. When Singapore can turn its drains into rivers, why can’t other countries let their rivers remain rivers?