MEWR priority in 2013 to inculcate socially gracious behaviour: Dr Balakrishnan
From upgrading drainage, to installing special cameras to curb high-rise littering.
2013 is set to be a big year in addressing environmental issues.
But beyond these measures, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan says the priority and challenge will be in inculcating more socially gracious attitudes among Singaporeans.
Dr Balakrishnan says his ministry is also studying other countries to cope with a potential sea-level rise.
Monica Kotwani looks at what 2013 and beyond will mean for the environment space.
From widening drainage, to installing closed-circuit cameras (CCTVs), it's been a busy year for national water agency, PUB, in preparing for rainy days and the monsoon season.
The Environment and Water Resources Ministry says there are another 15 projects in the pipeline for PUB in the coming year.
Also on the water front, it's a race to get Singapore "water independent" -- by ramping up land catchment areas and build more Newater plants.
This comes as Singapore's first water agreement with Malaysia expired in 2010, with the second one due to expire in 2061.
"This is a major challenge, it means ramping up our capacity for desalination, building more NEWater plants, expanding our land area for catchment of water, making sure every single drain, stream, water body in Singapore is not only clean and green but is also safe, because every drop that flows into every drain in Singapore, is a drop that we ultimately might drink."
On the ground, the Ministry and its statutory boards will take a tougher stand on littering.
From 2013, fines for first-time offenders will increase from $300 to $500.
The Home Affairs Ministry will be installing CCTVs in virtually every block for surveillance, and the National Environment Agency, or NEA, will ride on this technology to catch high-rise litterbugs.
Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan explains.
"We are also going to..have special cameras for high-rise littering surveillance, and the reason for the special cameras is that we need these things to work even at night, under low-light conditions.
We have to put a stop to high-rise littering -- it's unacceptable. Nearly 90 per cent of us live in high-rise apartments, and I get no end of complaints from people saying people are throwing all kinds of stuff, throwing from upstairs, landing on my clothes, landing on my balcony, landing on my window sill. We have to have the technology in place, to identify and charge the people who embark on that. We have to look even at tightening up the legislation to increase the penalties. To be honest, even one area we're looking at is that I've been getting increasing complaints even from condominiums and private estates that high rise littering is an issue there. Currently, our environment protection act actually only covers public areas. This is a new area in which a dialogue has to be opened with the management corporations of condominiums as to how they can strengthen their own by-laws, and whether any assistance or support from the government is necessary.So we need to create an entire nation where we all behave responsibly, and exercise care and consideration for our neighbours, and this has to apply across the board. "
Even as penalties increase, 2013 will see stepped up enforcement, including giving ordinary citizens the power to take action against those who litter.
"We're going to start a course next year which will be very similar to the same course our NEA officers go through, before they're issued with warrant cards to take action if need be, when a minority of people litter, or act irresponsibly in our environment. From next year onwards, we will have to step-up enforcement, in order to send a message to anyone considering dropping something, that your probability of being caught is actually going to be higher, and therefore we hope there will be a greater deterrence. Our reputation of being clean and green was a hard-won reputation, and we cannot afford to lose it."
NEA also introduced the tray-return scheme at nine hawker centres in 2012, and over the next two years, it will roll out the scheme to all new and existing hawker centres.
In both cases, the Ministry says it's about instilling a sense of graciousness in behaving responsibly, and using peer pressure to effect change.
But some experts say the move has to be carefully calibrated.
Associate Professor Paulin Tay-Straughan is with the National University of Singapore's Department of Sociology.
"This is the part where we have to be very careful when we talk about growing active state ownership, getting ordinary Singaporeans to step up and be part of this informal policing. It has to be done in a gracious manner. It has to be done in a way that does not publicly humiliate others, because then each time you get humiliated, you alienate that person, or a particular segment of the population will get alienated, and when you alienate people, you will not be able to get their buy-in. So the way to do it is to really learn how to encourage others towards pro-social behaviour in a gracious manner."
Associate Professor Paulin Tay Straughan says one example of instilling socially gracious behaviour is to learn from the past.
"A very good example would be the queuing culture. Not that long ago, we did not queue. Remember the masses -- that when the bus comes, everybody pushes, okay, to try to get up the bus. But then we decided that's not the right way to manage public behaviour, so we started the notion of the queue culture. And we've done that very well, right? You don't get fined for not standing in line. The reason you end up standing in line is because other people would tell you, 'This is a line, and you should be behind me.' We need to encourage Singaporeans to do that. When somebody litters, to say, 'Excuse me, the bin is around the corner.' Or to go one step further to when somebody drops a pack, as you're walking along, just pick it up and deposit it at the next bin you see."
On a larger scale, the Environment Ministry says it will do more to deal with the effects of climate change.
In 2011, it was announced that all future reclamations would require an extra meter to be added to projects - to address an anticipated rise in sea-level, and in 2012, the National Climate Change Secretariat released a strategy document, detailing the government's multi-fold initiatives -- from reducing carbon emissions, to beefing up research capabilities for clean technology solutions.
Dr Balakrishnan says his ministry is also studying countries like the Netherlands, where one-third of the country is below sea-level.
"With a few exceptions, they've also been able to prevent major floods and disasters from striking them. So it's a whole challenge of engineering, design, planning and learning new techniques in order to cope with sea-level rise. We also have to cope with greater volatility in weather."
Dr Balakrishnan says being a small country, Singapore will have to prepare for the worst, and take nothing for granted.
"We're so focused on building up our water, our freshwater generation capacity, desalination and recycling, it is also part of the long-term preparation for climate change. That's a really major challenge which is creeping up on us, but actually, can end up being literally a tsunami that we have to deal with."
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