In the 60s and 70s, floods were common then. Whenever it rained heavily, it’s bound to flood all over Singapore. In those days, Potong Pasir was the worst. You needed a sampan to move around during the monsoon season towards end of the year. I remember living in a zinc and wooden kampung shack at Lorong Ternak near to Kaki Bukit area when I was still a little boy in the early 70s. My home would be flooded after a heavy rainstorm. We were worried and afraid whenever it rained heavily.
With PUB massive investments on drainage infrastructure, the problem was eventually solved. Floods were unheard of during the 90s until recently. It seems that after Orchard Road was flooded few years ago, floods in Singapore are getting frequent and becoming a norm. Only recently when AYE had to be closed for traffic due to flooding. Now they are saying, “Not possible to eliminate flash floods”. Expect more flash floods in future. In other words we have come full circle. We are now back to those early years in the 60s and 70s? What is happening? Is it really so? Citing external forces beyond one’s control such as climate change and rising sea level is always the easiest to exonerate responsibility and negligence.
Before I go on to discuss about recent flooding happening in Singapore, let us look at a simple experiment or illustration. If you just take a pail of water and pour it out on the field or soil, the water will just disappear away without any trace. The soil readily absorbs the water. Now if you pour the same pail of water onto a cement or concrete floor, where would the water go? The water would be running about or remain on the cement floor surface. You could see that the water is still there. If there is a drain nearby, the water would flow into the drain. The water would just stay there if there is no drain to allow it to flow away. If you multiply or magnify this simple illustration by a million times i.e. instead of one pail of water, we now have millions of pails of water simulating a heavy tropical downpour on a huge area of concrete cement floor instead of an open field, park or natural forestry; what would happen? My dear readers, this is exactly what is happening to our beloved country!
Every available piece of land or rather inch of our 710 square km is turned into either condominiums, HDB flats, shopping malls, highways, etc. Except for small catchment areas in the heart of Singapore and pockets of undeveloped land, all available land is now in the process of converting into a huge concrete jungle. The PM announced during the last NDR that Paya Lebar airport will make way for more flats. Soon the open space at Tampines North will also be converted to housing estates. What about the old Bukit Brown cemetery at Mount Pleasant / Thomson Road will also make way for another highway. They even plan for another cross island rail or highway cutting through the catchment areas destroying what little greenery is left. My readers, all these planned developments are to cater to the 6.9 million people living on this tiny piece of rock. Massive urbanization without any thoughts on supporting infrastructure’s ability to cope. That is the problem.
If you are still not convinced of the above illustration, let us take a look at Orchard Road. About 3 years back, Orchard Road which is our prime tourist belt and shopping heaven was turned into Orchard River. Images of flooding affecting business especially those basement shops are still vividly etched on my mind. Those exposed green umbrellas of Starbucks with water covering all the tables and chairs were shocking images. It never happened before. Why did it happen – or is it a once in 50 years rare phenomenon?
For those old enough would recall that there was a big piece of empty field with an open carpark beside a huge monsoon canal just opposite the Post Office along Killiney Road. The same place now stood Orchard Central building. The canal is now covered underneath the huge shopping mall. They don’t call “monsoon canal” or “monsoon drain” for nothing! But we have here the world’s first covered monsoon drain. They are so enterprising to utilize this piece of prime land by building a huge shopping mall to reap huge profits and dividends rather than waste it by leaving it empty. Alas, Mother Nature does not function that way. The wrath incurred by Mother Nature translated into that worst Orchard Road flooding.
The above example is replicated all over the island. Barely 6 years ago; around year 2007, the entire stretch of Pasir Ris Drive 1 from Pasir Ris Drive 3 to the Esso petrol station was empty land running parallel to Tampines Expressway. Today, 4 condominium estates are completed. One EC which is opposite the Esso petrol kiosk is still under construction and the other one is on the way. It’s now condominium estates all the way without any more open spare or field. What about the intensive building activities opposite Pasir Ris MRT station. Another piece of empty hill is now being leveled getting ready for another condominium. As if not enough, the other green corridor of vast empty pockets of land along Pasir Ris Drive 3 near to Drive 12 and Drive 10 just a short distance away from the beach are all cleared for more condominium estates and an international school. Every piece of available land is quickly cleared and building construction immediately follows. It’s a vibrant booming town with so much construction going on in the usually sleepy neighborhood. It’s getting crowded. Soon ERP gantry points will have to be erected along Pasir Ris Dr 1 to prevent and regulate traffic jams.
10 years ago there was a huge green forestry opposite Tanah Merah MRT station on Bedok North side That was leveled resulting in at least 4 or 5 new condominium estates. A standard 1000 sq ft normal unit costs easily more than a million dollars. It’s better to reap huge profits than to let it go vacant to waste is the only mindset. Never mind incurring the wrath of Mother Nature. They are now going to the other side of Tanah Merah MRT station (Bedok South side) to repeat what they have done to the Bedok North side.
Next example is the latest flooding at Chai Chee. Pls refer to the newspaper report. If you take a look at the massive construction going on at the old Bedok Bus Interchange, you should understand the full impact. The open field next to the old Bedok Bus Interchange is now used as a temporary Bus Interchange. Without the open field to absorb the rain water in a heavy downpour coupled with the old existing drainage system and maybe choked waterways, floods happened. Chai Chee is already a low lying area prone to flooding but this time it was worst due to the cementing of the open field for the interim bus interchange resulting in the water not able to be absorbed to the ground. That’s my observation. I hope I’m proven wrong.
My neighbor; a retiree who spent his entire life in the construction industry told me as I’m writing this post at the Residents’ Corner of my block; that he was a director in a construction company. Their only pre-occupation was to make tons of money. According to him, they would grab all projects then announced bonuses even before the building project even started based on projected profits. When I asked him about our recent flooding problem, he declared that like other infrastructure breaking down in Singapore due to the sudden surge in population, “they did not co-ordinate” the drainage infrastructure properly. Meaning that the relevant authorities did not pay enough attention to it – not that they did not do anything at all. There is a difference between the two statements.
That guy who spent all his life in the construction industry gave me that simple analogy of the differences of a pail of water pouring on a field and cement floor which I elaborated above. According to him, it’s pure common sense. No need rocket science to understand the logic. But then, people especially capitalists are often blinded by greed that they do not see what we commoners – the suffering lot could see and connect the dots!
Now that the PM has announced that Paya Lebar airport, Tampines North open space corridor are earmarked for more compact and tiny HDB flats, I shudder to think of the implications. Will they dig deeper and bigger drainage canals to replace those open field forestry? Can they cope with bigger and heavier more frequent thunderstorms due to weather change and rising sea level?
Many would want us to blame climatic changes and rising sea level leading to our flooding problems. I would only subscribe partially to that view. To a certain extent, we are also to be blame like what my neighbor pointed out earlier. Like all other infrastructure not able to cope with the sudden surge in population, flooding is one of them in terms of upgrading drainage infrastructure. The lack of hospital beds, squeeze in public transport, frequent breakdown of public transport, high housing costs, nearly $100,000 COE, $6 ERP charges etc are all due to “lack of co-ordination” when so much immigrants came into our small tiny country over the last 5 to 10 years. This is the sad truth and we are now paying the price.
Chai Chee was earlier already flooded on 28 Oct due to a heavy downpour (‘PUB: Not possible to eliminate flash floods‘).
On 29 Oct, heavy downpour had caused multiple places in the east side of Singapore to flood. Chai Chee Road, New Upper Changi Road and Bedok South Ave 1 were all flooded. Most serious flooding occurred at Chai Chee Road in Bedok.
A resident, Mr Tay, told the reporter that Chai Chee Road is frequently flooded after a heavy downpour. Flooding at the place has occurred more than 10 times over the past 3 years.
Mdm Sim, another resident, said that at about noon, heavy flooding trapped 2 cars, 1 taxi and 1 lorry at Chai Chee. The vehicles were half immersed in the water as the water level rose.
She said, “One of the drivers, about 40 years old, saw how dangerous the situation has become and immediately grabbed his 3-year-old son to escape. He carried his son and forded across the water to reach a nearby factory.”
Mr Tan Chuan-Jin acknowledged the flooding situation at Chai Chee is “quite bad”. He wrote on his Facebook page [Link] on 30 Oct:
“As for the Chai Chee Rd/ New Upp Changi Rd junction area, we’re discussing with PUB and LTA to see what else can be done to deal with the flooding issue there. It’s quite bad when there is intense rain.
Will try and address this issues or to at least ameliorate the effects.”
In another Facebook posting, he wrote today (1 Nov) that he had a detailed meeting with PUB, NEA, LTA and Town Council to look into the flooding problems in the East side. He said:
“We were briefed on situation, what happened and why, what was in place and what will be happening. We also went to take a look on site. Will visit a few more this weekend.
I have asked them to package the info and will push it out to the public once ready. It is instructive to note what has been already done, and what is in the pipeline, so to speak.
Work has been done in a number of areas and it is encouraging to note that the situation was ok. For affected areas, we’d take interim measures where we can while the formal solution kicks in. We’d speed things up where possible but some of these are quite major efforts.”
As a temporary measure to alleviate the flooding problems at Chai Chee, a pump had been put in place. The contractor is supposed to be on 24/7 standby to activate the pump once heavy rains come. Judging from the flooding on 28 and 29 Oct, Mr Tan said that there was clearly a need for another pump. A second one was put in place yesterday (31 Oct). He added:
“These are interim measures. Road will be raised about 150mm so that cars should be able to clear the waters. We should get this done by end of year. Drains will be widened and deepened. Probably by first quarter of 2014 at Chai Chee Street.”
However, he did acknowledge that communications need to be improved so as to be able to provide timely assistance on the ground:
“Pre-emptive effort (i.e, installing pump) which helped some though not enough to ensure no flood. But area is quite a basin. So they (PUB) have added another. We have some loose ends we are also tying up in terms of comms so that we can provide more timely assistance on the ground. Will see how that pans out. Key is road raising and drain works (by PUB).”
Still, PUB is not confident in eliminating flash floods. On 28 Oct during a media interview, Chew Men Leong, chief executive of PUB, said, “Despite our best efforts, I think it’s not possible for us to eliminate flash floods.” Link