But that source is vulnerable—not only to drought but to politics. “In the past, there were multiple times when the relationship between the two countries [Malaysia and Singapore] had some friction, with water being a matter of dispute,” says Stuti Rawat, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Asian and Policy Studies at the Education University of Hong Kong. In 2018, Mahathir Mohamad, then Malaysia’s prime minister, signaled his plans to renegotiate the Linggiu agreement, calling it too costly and the current terms—which have Singapore paying just three sen (less than one cent) per thousand gallons—“manifestly ridiculous.” “Because of that, it has been very important for Singapore to try to carve out its own independent water supply,” adds Rawat.
The rise in global temperatures has added new urgency to the situation. “With climate change, we are expecting more extreme weather with more intense rain and longer dry spells, as experienced in the US, China, India, and many other parts of the world,” Seah says.
These volatile patterns mean that the country can no longer rely on rainfall to predictably fill up its reservoirs.
PUB has rallied households to conserve water. By 2023, it plans to have installed some 300,000 smart water meters in homes; they will use digital technologies to monitor usage and flag leaks.
But the country is also rapidly accelerating efforts to expand on its own water sources. PUB has committed to doubling the domestic supply of clean drinking water by 2060, a feat that would take Singapore close to self-sufficiency. Crucially, it aims to do so without increasing energy use.