Plumbing Singapore’s water story


ONE evening in Spain in 2006, global water experts Asit Biswas (AB) and Cecilia Tortajada (CT) sent a last-gasp email message to Mr Khoo Teng Chye, chief executive of Singapore’s national water authority PUB.

Professor Biswas, 71, and Dr Tortajada, 48, are husband and wife, and they were then preparing to contribute to the Human Development Report on the world’s best water management systems, including those in Britain and the United States when, six weeks before their deadline, someone said they should study Singapore’s water systems. So they shot off a note to Mr Khoo, even as a friend who used to work in Singapore warned them that it would take ages to get such data from the Government.

However, Prof Biswas recalls, ‘Lo and behold, when we woke up the next morning, we received an e-mail from Mr Khoo saying, ‘What do you need?

Whatever you need is at your disposal.” So the Biswases not only got to report Singapore as an epitome of water management, but are now also completing a book titled The Singapore Water Story, which they hope to launch here next year.

Working with PUB impressed them so, they nominated it for the Stockholm Water Prize in 2007, the Oscars for the industry, and PUB toasted its eventual win in Sweden with Newater, the reclaimed water produced by PUB.

Prof Biswas, himself a Stockholm Water Prize winner in 2006, is the founder-president of the Third World Centre for Water Management in Mexico, of which his Mexican wife is deputy president. Between them to date, they have advised more than 20 governments on national and international water policies and best practices, including recommending that the National University of Singapore (NUS) set up the Institute of Water Policy. They met when Prof Biswas was at the World Bank and advising the National Water Commission of Mexico, where Dr Tortajada worked.

Prof Biswas is currently a Distinguished Visiting Professor at NUS’ Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, while his wife is a visiting don at the same school. They sat down with me earlier this month to discuss the recent floods here.

Interview online