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[SIIA Media Note] Dr. Kua Harn Wei: An Integrated Approach is Needed to Address the Negative Impacts of Flash Floods in Singapor

Updated On: Jul 27, 2010

Could the recent occurrence of flash floods, which had inconvenienced many in Singapore, be a sign that climate change has begun to take its toll on the island state? Climate scientists and policy analysts are cautious about jumping to conclusion. Besides, there is really no joy to see any proof of climate change play out in one’s backyard, even if these recent floods are in fact a manifestation of climate change. What matters more is how we intend to take preemptive measures to ensure that we either minimize the occurrence of future floods, or minimize the detrimental effects that they will cause; or both.

We have heard many offering their views in the mass media on technological solutions, including strategies to slow down storm-water runoff, which has over the years been exacerbated by increased urbanization. However, strategies such as slowing down the channeling of water into our monsoon drains – the arteries of our island-wide drainage network – may give rise to the shifting of flooding to other areas in our highly urbanized landscape. Flooding in other areas of the island may in turn result in increased pollutants being carried away by stormwater runoff – for example, from highly industrial areas – hence worsening the problem of flooding.

A more holistic and integrated approach is needed. For one, engineers can do a computational simulation of the water flow situation along the main arteries, given different scenarios of inflows from the different peripheral sources, under different precipitation conditions. This is not an end of and in itself, but can serve as a predictive tool to spur us to think about different scale and nature of countermeasures in different challenging circumstances. Behavioral-driven strategies are also needed to discourage littering, especially the discarding of litter into waterways. Finally, we need to think ahead – by thinking broadly and boldly. There is a possibility that future storms may be accompanied by stronger-than-usual winds. How will our counter-measures change in view of these new threats?

These recent events give us an opportunity to re-evaluate our response mechanism, which must be more than merely increasing the width and/or depth of our drains. It also tests our ability to strike a delicate balance between urbanization and preservation of greenery, and the capacity to engage the public as a part of environmental policy execution in our journey toward greater sustainable development as a maturing nation.

About the author: 

Dr. Kua Harn Wei is an Associate Fellow with the SIIA


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