First Youth Symposium on Sustainable Water Future
Turn on a tap, and clean water flows out, as much as we want, anytime we want. It is easy to forget that Singapore’s journey to provide secure and sustainable water did not come easy. As a country with no natural water resources and limited land to catch and store rainwater, it is important that we do not take our water for granted, and we continue to educate our young to cherish and value this precious resource.
On 10 July 2019, over 200 students from 11 secondary schools, junior colleges and polytechnics participated in the Singapore Youth Water Conference (SYWC). Organised by Raffles Institution and supported by PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, this inaugural conference aims to create a deeper awareness and knowledge of water security and sustainability issues among our youths.
The Conference kicked off with keynote speeches by Mr Ng Joo Hee, Chief Executive of PUB and Professor Asit K. Biswas, Distinguished Visiting Professor, University of Glasgow, followed by a dialogue session. Mr Ng impressed upon the students that total water demand is projected to double from the current 430 million gallons of water per day by 2061, and that is water that we do not have today. As such, we need to find alternative sources of water, such as the sewers (water reclamation) and the sea (desalination).
“First of all, we have to maximise our yield, we strive to collect every drop of water that falls on Singapore. Second, we have to think of water as an endlessly reusable resource. Water can always be reclaimed and retreated so that it can be drunk again. Today, we are able to literally turn dirty toilet water into sweet water. Third, because Singapore is surrounded by the sea, we can desalinate salty seawater and make it drinkable.”
Keynote address by Mr Ng Joon Hee, Chief Executive of PUB
Professor Asit K. Biswas, Distinguished Visiting Professor, University of Glasgow, gave an overview of the global water situation and shared how Cambodia, China and India dealt with their respective water challenges. He also cited Singapore as one of the leaders in urban water management.
Professor Asit noted that many countries lacked sufficient water for drinking, agriculture and industrial development due to lack of proper water management. To that end, political will and sustained public action are important in ensuring water resilience and sustainability.
“The world does not have a water problem; it has a water management problem,” he said.
The students had an engaging and candid dialogue session with the panellists, who were experts in their respective water-related fields, such as policy, governance, advocacy and business, on the issue that is close to everyone’s hearts –
will we ever run out of water? Participants raised questions and shared their thoughts on water security, ways to reduce water consumption, water price and many others.
Students sharing their thoughts on water sustainability at the Singapore Water Youth Conference 2019
Panel members at the Singapore Youth Water Conference. From left: Mr Eugene Heng, CEO, Waterway Watch Society; Mr Charles Quek, Vice-President of Singapore Water Association, CEO of HSL Constructor Pte Ltd; Professor Asit K. Biswas, Distinguished Visiting Professor, University of Glasgow; Mr Ng Joo Hee, Chief Executive of PUB and Dr Cecilia Tortajada, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Water Policy, Lee Kuan Yew School.
Students showcase water-related projects at school exhibition
The conference also saw the showcase of innovative projects undertaken by the students to explore new solutions to water challenges and sharing of water conservation messages.
For example, one team from Raffles Institution looked into the water retention capacities of environmentally-friendly hydrogels, and it effectiveness in removing common pollutants in stormwater. Such hydrogels can be used in rain gardens and green roofs to manage stormwater runoff. A different team looked into the problem of textile industries causing water pollution by discharging wastewater with large amounts of textile dyes in the sea. They explored the effectiveness of the enzyme laccase (found in oyster mushrooms) to treat wastewater by degrading textile dyes.
Another team from Nanyang Polytechnic developed an educational card game to educate players on the water treatment process in Singapore. By understanding the challenges faced in the production of clean drinking water, these students hope to encourage players to take positive actions in water conservation after playing the game.
Student from various schools sharing their projects with the participants of the conference.
On a whole, the students and panellists had a fruitful discussion and sharing of thoughts on the future of water at the Singapore Youth Water Conference. When asked about the key takeaway from the conference, one student shared that she now recognises how valuable water is, and the importance of sustainable water management not just for Singapore, but for the entire world.
Let us all work together to ensure that we will always have enough water and no one will ever have to go thirsty.