27 March 2013

Water Conservation — Is Singapore Doing Enough?

Singapore's per capita daily domestic water consumption was 152 litres in 2011, down from 165 litres in 2003.  Public Utilities Board's target is to lower it to 147 litres by 2020 and 140 litres by 2030.

In comparison, cities like Hamburg (Germany) and Barcelona (Spain) hope to see their per capita daily domestic water consumption fall below 100 litres by 2015, according to Prof Asit Biswas and Dr Cecilia Tortajada.[1]

So, is Singapore doing enough to reduce its water consumption?

International Comparison
Comparing Singapore's domestic water consumption with other countries' may not be a fair gauge of Singapore's water conservation efforts.

First, "domestic water consumption" is used interchangeably with "household water consumption", but they may not necessarily mean the same thing.

Household water consumption is clear.  It is water consumed by households, at least structures that the authorities consider to be households (but see below).

What constitutes domestic water consumption?  Does it include water used: in condominium swimming pools, for cleaning condominium or HDB car parks and other common areas?

Second, what constitutes a household?

Many people think it's obvious, but apparently it's not.

Take, for example, the Labour Force in Singapore, 2012.  The sample selection of 33,000 dwelling units in the survey was undertaken by Department of Statistics, which maintains a National Database of Dwellings in Singapore.  Surprisingly, 1,675 of these were subsequently found to be unoccupied, non-residential or demolished.  It is one thing if a dwelling is unoccupied; it is quite another thing if it is non-residential or demolished.  How is it that the National Database of Dwellings cannot get it right?

Third, usage patterns are influenced by local situations.

The most obvious reason people here use more water is that they shower more often because it is warm and humid.

In a study of China's mega cities, Asst Prof Han found that per capita daily domestic water consumption generally increased the further south the cities were.[2]

In a study of Hong Kong's domestic water consumption, Water Services Department found that people there showered 1.04 times a day on average, and each shower consumed 55.2 litres of water.  Perhaps, people in Singapore shower more often.

The hotter weather in Singapore also means more evaporation from condominium swimming pools and rooftop water tanks.

Other plausible reasons:

Unlike homes in Europe and North America, homes in Singapore are generally not carpeted, which means that they have to be mopped.

Washing dishes in dishwashers typically uses less water than if the dishes are washed using running water from a tap, but most kitchens in Singapore are too small for dishwashers.

Many households have live-in domestic helpers.  Hong Kong's experience was that such households were more likely to consume more water per capita than other similar households.[3]

Tariff is Too Low
Biswas and Tortajada think that Singapore's water tariff — $1.17 per cubic metre up to 40 cubic metres per month and $1.40 per cubic metre for consumption above that — is too low, and should be raised 30 per cent.[1]

But those are only the base rates.  In addition, there are the following:

▪ Water conservation tax of 30 per cent on consumption of up to 40 cubic metres per month and 45 per cent on consumption above that.

▪ Waterborne fee of $0.2804 per cubic metre.

▪ Sanitary appliance fee of $2.8037 per chargeable sanitary fitting per month.

▪ GST of 7 per cent.

Taking all these components together, 4- and 5-room HDB households pay on average about $2.24 per cubic metre, or almost double the somewhat deceptively low base rate.[4]

Not Spending Enough on Water R&D
Biswas and Tortajada said that the headlines in Singapore have been more about floods than droughts.  In any other country, if there is a flash flood in a 5-sq-km area lasting less than 30 minutes, nobody takes it seriously.  It is an inconvenience but not a serious issue.  But if a drought comes, it affects life in Singapore for several years.[1]

Mr Terence Poon wonders whether the Government is right in investing $750 million over five years to improve and/or expand drainage capacity in 20 areas, after the flash floods in 2010 and 2011 and the last general election but has allocated only $470 million to finance R&D and grow the water industry since 2006.  After all, the flash floods in 2010 caused an estimated $23 million of damage only.[5]

They are mistaken.  The Government is not operating under a budget deficit.  Its forecast FY2013 budget surplus is so large that, among other things, it has funded the GST Voucher scheme until FY2020!  The Government is not constrained by how much it can spend on water R&D (within reasonable limits of course) but it is pointless to pour more money into water R&D and the water industry than there are justifiably viable projects.
Water in Singapore is already priced to reflect its scarcity value, contrary to what some people think.
That said, people should continue to conserve water and reduce consumption.


1. ASIT BISWAS AND CECILIA TORTAJADA It’s Drought, Not Floods, S’pore Should Fear TODAY 18 Mar 2013.

2. JI HAN Residential Water Use in China Mega Cities and Policy Toward a Water-Saving Society International Conference on Sustainability Science in Asia 2012.

3. HONG KONG WATER SERVICES DEPARTMENT Domestic Water Consumption Survey — Key Survey Findings (viewed on 25 Mar 2013).

4. Based on average monthly water consumption of 19 cubic metres per month and two chargeable sanitary appliances per household.

5. TERENCE POON Treading Between the Painful and the Popular TODAY 22 Mar 2013.


  1. A truly stupid commentary.

    Check out the water consumption by the oil, gas, power, petrochemical and shipping industries. These are the elephants in the room.

    The idiot who keeps talking about "per capita consumption" obviously doesn't think. One of Singapore's giant refineries alone consumes more water than a housing estate.

    You want to conserve water? Shut down Jurong Island.

    1. The demand for water in 2011 was as follows (in million cu metres):
      Domestic... 281.2
      Non-domestic... 197.2
      Total potable... 478.4
      NEWater... 102.4
      Industrial... 23.1

  2. To the idiot politicians, media, Terence Poon and brain-dead bloggers who tell Singaporeans to keep cutting down water consumption, are you expecting people to reduce their showers, eating and water drinking? If they reduce their showers and washing of clothes and dishes, be prepared to have diseases and hygiene problems.

    Here's what you jerks can do:
    1. Cut down the population size.
    2. Stop having so many tourists come into the country. Hotels are big wasters of water. Why should tourists care about Singapore's water problems?
    3. Reduce industries...especially the polluting petrochemical and chemical plants.
    4. Reduce shipping traffic. We have too many shipping accidents in Singapore already. They also use too much water.
    5. Stop writing stupid articles and lecturing Singaporeans to use less water if you're too stupid and lazy to find out who the culprits are.

    1. Cut down tourists? Reduce shipping? Are you completely clueless about something called 'economics'

  3. I found is article very interesting and informative. I am currently undertaking a research project in this area and it would be great if the author of this article could contact me or if someone could pass on their email to me. Thank you.
    e-mail: sgrantho@liv.ac.uk

  4. I believe the article does help in sheding more lights in this subject.
    In my opinion and agreed by rainmaker in his last paragraph, individuals are responsible in using water prudently. And area that goes hand in hand with personal prudency is technology advancement. For example, water flush technology could be improved to consume less water per flush or less water per toilet use.

  5. Hi, I would like to cite this blog. How should I address the author (RainMaker)? Thank you.