Water As An Important Resource

Singapore has recently launched two publications; “Blue Paper” and “Solutions”, outlining imperatives such as the need to price water to reflect its scarcity while ensuring its affordability.

Water has always played an important in the sustainable development of cities. One-third of the world’s population live in areas where water scarcity must be reckoned with. Much of this cannot be avoided, but can be averted through better water management. As a rule of thumb, about one litre of liquid water gets converted to water vapor to produce one calorie of food. A heavy meat diet requires much more water than a vegetarian diet. These are trends that pile ever more pressure on the available water resources as the world population increases and urbanization occurs more rapidly.

The relation between water and food is a struggle for over two thirds of world’s 850 million under-nourished people. There is water scarcity in rural areas of India and China and much of South Africa, because of rapid economic growth in both countries. Diets are more dependent on animal products. In China, meat demand has quadrupled over the last 30 years, and in India milk and egg products are increasingly popular. Growing cities take more water, and environmental concerns are escalating.

Water use in agriculture is one of the major drivers of ecosystem degradation. Flows of rivers in important food producing areas dry up because of the water needed for irrigated agriculture. More people require more water for more food; more water is essential in the fight against poverty; yet we should limit the amount of water taken from ecosystems.

There have been greater recognition of the importance of water and the need to conserve and ensure the proper distribution and use of water. Projects that cause great damages to the environment are causing huge uproar and governments are weighing development decisions more prudently nowadays. Examples include the debate caused by hydraulic fracking and the closing down of several mines in China and India due to their damage of the environment.


Agricultural Model may be the way forward

Two recent articles bring to attention what could be the greatest peril the world will face in the not-too-distant future. In the article “Urbanization ‘threatens food security’ “, a senior Chinese official said China has approved more than 1,500 national- and provincial-level industrial development zones, the area of which account for nearly 1 million hectares, which directly led to China’s arable land declining by 8.3 million hectares in the past 12 years partly as a result of the country’s urbanization.

Another article states that global warming is likely to be already taking a toll on world wheat and corn production in period since 1980 according to a study by Stanford University researchers. Total worldwide relative losses of these two staple crops equal the annual production of corn in Mexico and wheat in France. With overwhelming evidence by the IPPC that climate change will cause global average temperature to increase, this problem shows no signs of slowing down.

Amidst all these, the world population continues to grow at a rate which crop production struggles to catch up. All of these points to the need for the world to rethink the general model of development and the solution may well be a move from an industrial model back to an agricultural model.

We live in an age where power reigns supreme and success is largely defined by positional authority and wealth status which feeds the herd mentality of migration to “urban” cities that supposedly offer more opportunities. The first thing world leaders have to do is to place increased food production as one of its main agenda. The industrial model that now dominates in much of the world should give way to the creation of an ecosystem that is non-linear with everyone playing a specific role and elements interplaying to achieve their respective goals; a new system of mutual, co-operative and partnership alternatives. Market mechanisms should be made to operate more smoothly to widen the financing streams by encouraging mutually beneficial partnerships with farming communities.

Such an ecosystem requires a rethink of the way success is defined and an alleviation of the status of farmers. There should be genuine efforts by the governments to take the lead by promoting a spirit of enterprise in the farming sector, training and empowering farmers and incentivizing private sectors to invest more into agricultural science.

All these are not enough and needs to be supplemented by measures such as granting access of the local peasantry to land, water and seeds and applying technological improvements to improve yields. As public infrastructure and access to external information improves, the right of local communities to define their own agricultural and food policies ought to increase in tandem so that the farmers have more autonomy. Simply not wasting food helps too; roughly one third of world food production for humans is lost or wasted with industrialized countries being the worst culprit.

The solution is there but it is fading away fast as the world procrastinates.

By Si Yuan









I have just came back from a month-long environmental project in Hangzhou, China.

During the community outreach that we organized together with the local environmental NGO and vocational high school, the teacher-in-charge said that the attempt to install recycling bins in neighborhoods was first implemented 11 years ago but failed and the HZ government are trying to restart the attempt again this year (2011) in 63 neighborhoods. The strategy is to start with more affluent neighborhoods first and then expand it to poorer ones, with the assumption that less-affluent people need more time to understand the importance of household recycling and inculcate the habit into their daily lives. Simultaneously, local NGO, like the one we worked with would continue to have activities in neighborhoods to raise the awareness level of residents.

Here in Singapore, recycling rates are actually not that fantastic as well./ In 2008, 56 per cent of Singapore’s household and industrial waste was recycled, up from 40 per cent in 2000. NEA’s recycling target. It hopes to achieve a 70 per cent overall recycling rate by 2030. During a seminar I attended, I heard from NEA that 65% is a barrier that they have tried but found it very hard to achieve with the figures hovering around 55-60%. In Asia, what I know is that Taiwan has achieved very high recycling rates of more than 70% through years of efforts.

Most residents find it inconvenient and time-wasting to separate waste. Last week in the news, it is great to see that a group of Singapore Polytechnic students has come up with an award-winning recycling bin to make it more convenient to recycle. You can read the short article below:

Habits takes time to change and the task of raising environmental awareness in people is really a journey that goes on and on…

By Si Yuan


The new realm of corporate social responsibility

Two days ago, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published ISO26000 2010, Guidance on Social Responsibility. The use of “social responsibility”, rather than the more popular and better known variant Corporate Social Responsibility is deliberate.

The six core areas of IS0 26000 embrace potentially hot-button issues: Human rights, labour practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement and development. It is six years in the making and will most likely mark the emergence of a new era of business where companies are expected to contribute back to society in one way or another.

Companies are given the social contract to operate their businesses and make profits and they should indeed contribute back to society. In time to come, the new ISO 26000 may evolve to become a certification standard, much like ISO8000 and ISO9000. We will finally see the inclusion of a massive force to help solve the mounting problem that the world is having. The partnership between governments, businesses and NGOs will be ever more prominent in the future.

By Si Yuan









Achieving the equilibrium

I refer to a speech that was made by the Minister of National Development Mister Mah Bow Tan (http://www.mnd.gov.sg/newsroom/Speeches/speeches_2010_M_07012010.htm ). In it, he touched on one of the main challenges that the world face as urbanization spreads its wings to ever farther places- achieving a balance between development and conservation.

Recently I had the privilege to attend the ASEAN Youth Wallacea Expedition held in Jakarta and Ternate from 25 June to 30 June 2010 and this was one of the main topics that were discussed. There are no easy solutions to this problem and leaders need to make sure that they allow for the existence of meaningful dialogue between the various parties that would be affected by any decision to take place. The necessity of ensuring economic progress and social advancement for its citizens will always create a strain on local governments to assign an even greater area for commercial development and often cause permanent and irreversible damages to the natural environment. On this issue, the decision makers need to be open-minded and be willing to listen to all sides of the argument before making the most pragmatic decision.

In recent years, there have been more evidences that conservation and preservation may not run contrary to economic advancement. Eco-tourism and sustainable agriculture proved to be plausible solutions when their negative impacts are managed. All in all, I feel that the issue of achieving a harmony between conservation and development would be lesser of a dilemma if tools from the economics of the environment could be given an even firmer footing in decision-making.

By Si Yuan


Let’s talk about e-waste

The June PC show is on the way. People are stretching their head to look at the latest technology and amazing designs of electric products. As one of the best performing industry, it is just a matter of time when e-waste becomes a problem that we can no longer ignore. How do you dispose your old TV or laptop? Oh, maybe you sell it to secondhand store or trade-in your laptop when buying a new one. Here are some data to tell the truth of e-waste from “Facts and Figures on E‐Waste and Recycling”, report from Environmental Protection Agency of US.

In the year 2007 US alone, there are 26.9 million Televisions, 205.5 millions units of computer products and 140.3 million units of cell phone discarded in US. Only 18% (by weight) of these televisions and computer products were recycled and 10% (by weight) for cell phone. 68% of people choose to stockpile the unwanted products, which unveil the fact that there is no convenient disposal approach for households.

Now, I’d like to show you another set of figures that will tell the true energy consumption of electronic devices. About 81% of energy is used to manufacture a desktop computer while only 19% is actually consumed during the lifetime of the product. By encouraging reuse of electronic devices, there could be more jobs created rather than reproducing.

Given those facts, I should attribute the reason to the missing link between households and recycling factories. With the rapid development of electronic industry, the development of auxiliary industry has, so far, lagged behind. It makes sense that the solution only comes after a problem. However, we should search for viable solutions to solve the problem before it starts to cause any inconvenience to our lives.

By Oliver


Beware of extreme weather

Living in Singapore is enjoyment for peace of mind. However, this is not true in other parts of the world. I am not talking about economic downturn or regional political instability, but the attack of extreme weather. If the story of the latest movie “2012” is faked, at least some part of it has come true in a gentle manner. The amount of tornado took place in United States hit records high in 2008, caused billions of dollars loss. In the nearer part of the world, China is facing drought in the southwest and floods on the middle and east. The impact of extreme irregular climate has amplified over the past few years both for frequency and severity.

Recently, I found an interesting report “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security”, which is issued by GBN (Global Business Network) in 2003. The report is written to forecast plausible scenarios of extreme climate change and its impact to United States national security. Although not likely, climate change is capable to cause severe problem to global peace by affecting the most basic needs of human beings such as food, clean water and energy. I am surprised by the fact that the report has precisely forecasted the winder weather in North America and long lasting drought in China as 2003. Optimist believes technology advancement is faster than the pace of climate change. However, it’s just a matter of time when extreme climate change proves people’s unthinkable worries to be true.

A case in point would be Australia as illustrated in this news article taken from “The Environmental Show” : http://theenvironmentshow.com/2009/02/extreme-weather-is-climate-change-responsible. Decisions related to the environment should always keep in mind the indirect impact on future generations No matter what have been done and should be done in the future to mitigate the situation, it’s good to be mentally prepared for the worst possible scenario.

By Oliver


Overfishing may mean no more fishes for future generations

I refer to this article by UN Environment Program:


To summarise, there are estimates that the ocean’s fishes may run out 40 years later. Although this will likely be dismissed by most people as being over-exaggerating, this is further evidence that men are using Earth’s renewable resources faster than it can be replenished.

We often forget that we have a duty of beneficence to the environment by virtue of the benefits derived from it. The main idea drawn upon is Joseph Desjardin’s idea which adopts the principle of sustainable development. Sustainable development involves protecting and preserving the environment for the long run. Strictly speaking, actions today should not leave the environment in a state worse than before. Sustainable Development, a core concept in current ethical discourse, has as its goal to satisfy the needs of the present generation without diminishing the chances of future generations. With respect to renewable resources, it means that the rate at which we take these resources from the environment should allow time for them to replenish themselves.
Humans are Earthlings and care for the Earth is a developing and an ultimate human virtue.

By Si Yuan