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Water Security – A Closer Look at Singapore’s Challenges Amidst a Global Water Shortage

Written by: Janessa Kong

Date: 01/06/20


Rapid population growth, industrial development and urbanization come to mind when thinking about the key drivers behind Asia’s water crisis. The growing demand for water in the region which accounts for approximately 65 per cent of global water supply has left countries struggling to secure supply pipelines to freshwater.

According to research from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) Water Program, water scarcity is set to increase in 74 to 86 per cent of regions in Asia, with about 40 per cent of the continent facing severe water scarcity by 2050. 

This can be seen in countries like India, Nepal, China, Pakistan and Indonesia, where erratic weather patterns caused by climate change and poor water governance has brought the issue of the dwindling supply of freshwater to the forefront of policy issues/concerns.

What About Singapore?  

Despite being one of the most densely populated countries, Singapore has effectively managed to ensure access to clean water for her 5.7 million citizens. This is in part due to investments in innovation to increase her own supply and policies which aim to combat her own vulnerability through diversification.

Years of contingency planning has allowed Singapore to circumvent the current global shortage of water even amidst the current COVID-19 crisis – this can be seen in her efficiency in securing supply pipelines for crucial goods and services from neighbouring countries.

However, like many countries in Asia, Singapore still faces the challenge of remaining self-sufficient while facing an acute water shortage. In fact, according to the World Resources Institute, she is the fifth most likely country in the world to face extreme water stress by 2040.

What Does Water Security Look Like in Singapore?

While Singapore has invested heavily in improving her infrastructure to better support increasing demand, challenges still remain prevalent in ensuring reliable access to freshwater.

Approximately a third of her current water supply is imported from Malaysia, with the existing contract set to expire in 2021. Water sources are also vulnerable to the threat of climate change, which has resulted in political tension and greater uncertainty in the region.

Current measures like diversification via NEWater and Desalination need to be further complemented in order to address these unique challenges. While self-sufficiency is unlikely in the short run, and in reality does not make economic sense (due to the availability of cheap imports from Malaysia), new water rhetoric should be considered in view of the fragility of global water supply chains (which have become even more evident thanks to COVID-19). Solutions need to be centered around sustainability in order for Singapore to ensure access to water in the long run.   


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