Water Security


Access to freshwater is important for the survival of any country. However, some countries and territories, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, are not blessed with an abundance of freshwater to meet their needs. Hence, they have to rely on water from external sources to make up for the shortfall in supply.


What is water security?

The United Nations defines water security as “the capacity of a nation to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability.” In this regard, the United Nations highlights the need for good governance, transboundary cooperation, peace and political stability, and adequate financing for the purpose of ensuring water security.


Water security for Singapore

Singapore signed two water agreements with Malaysia in 1961 and 1962, while the 1990 agreement supplemented the 1962 agreement. These agreements allow Singapore to draw water from water sources in Malaysia. They were also guaranteed by the Malaysian Government and enacted into the Malaysian Constitution, thus securing Singapore’s access to water from Malaysia up to 2061. In the meantime, Singapore is diversifying its water sources through wastewater recycling and desalination to achieve long-term self-sufficiency, especially in view of climate change affecting water supply and when the population hits 6.9 million by 2030. However, the costs involved will continue to rise, hence the need to manage water resources and consumption carefully.

This resource guide presents relevant reports and studies that discuss how other countries and territories seek to achieve water security, such as through pricing, seeking additional and alternative water sources, and measures to manage water consumption.


What is water security?

UN Water: The United Nations inter-agency mechanism on all freshwater related issues, including sanitation. (2014, October 7). UN-Water. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from http://www.unwater.org/fileadmin/user_upload/unwater_new/docs/water_security_poster_Oct2013.pdf


Average water consumption (CuM)

The average water consumption per premise type in Singapore, ranging from HDB one-room flats to bungalows vary. Between January 2016 and January 2017, the average monthly water consumption is as follows:

  • 9.44 CuM (HDB 1-Room)
  • 12.62 CuM (HDB 2-Room)
  • 13.88 CuM (HDB-3 Room)
  • 17.6 CuM (HDB 4-Room)
  • 18.6 CuM (HDB 5-Room)
  • 20.71 CuM (HDB Executive)
  • 14.42 CuM (Apartment)
  • 27.64 CuM (Terrace)
  • 32.18 CuM (Semi-Detached)
  • 50.88 CuM (Bungalow)
Average water consumption (CuM). (2014). Singapore Power. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from


Our water, our future

In 2014, Singapore was ranked as one of the most water-stressed countries in the world by the World Resources Institute. Whilst the country needs to continue to ensure water security and sustainability to guarantee “national survival and economic prosperity”, it continues to face major challenges. Its imported water is “under threat and steadily depleting”; the demand for water is expected to more than double by 2061; and the country is also exposed to the impacts of climate change. This report discusses these issues and takes a look at what has been done and will be done to further diversify and strengthen the country’s water supply. It also highlights the importance of keeping Singapore sustainable and resilient by managing water demand through pricing, mandatory measures, and water conservation practices.

Our water, our future. (2016). PUB. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from


From geographic weakness to technical strength: Singapore’s water policy

Singapore’s water sources – the “Four National Taps”: local catchment water, imported water, NEWater and desalinated water – are critical in augmenting and diversifying the country’s water supplies. They have played a key role in Singapore’s urbanisation and development. This article presents the Singapore water story – how the country has successfully managed its water supply and sustainability through forward planning of its limited water resources, innovation and efficient governance. Its success is also attributed to the public acceptance of its population, who played a key role in determining the efficient implementation of its national taps, particularly NEWater.

Sivaramakrishnan, S. (2015, March 13). From geographic weakness to technical strength: Singapore’s water policy. Singapore Policy Journal. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from


Tackling Singapore’s water shortage

Singapore lacks natural freshwater sources and the demand for water continues to increase due to industrial activity and population growth. To address supply and demand issues, the country has implemented a range of innovative initiatives to ensure an efficient, adequate and sustainable water supply. Two such initiatives are: NEWater, which produces “high-grade recycled waste water” and meets about 30 percent of water demand; and ‘variable salinity plant’ (VSP), which processes brackish rainwater collected during the wet season and seawater desalination during the dry season. To address supply issues, it has implemented a demand management policy to encourage more efficient water usage through pricing, mandatory water conservation requirements and encouraging voluntarism. However, climate change, increasing energy costs, growing demand for water, and urbanisation continue to pose challenges in tackling the country’s water shortage.

Tackling Singapore’s water shortage. (2013). INSEAD. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from


Transforming water economies

Ensuring access to water is increasingly becoming a challenge. Countries are facing significant threats of water scarcity and increasing volatility of supply, attributable to factors such as climate, geography and demographics. Limited access to water can “jeopardise economic growth and social well-being”. Hence, some countries are driven to look into developing innovative approaches to manage their water supply. This article analyses how Australia, Singapore and Israel innovate to overcome this challenge.

Boccaletti, G., Maitra, S., & Stuchtey, M. (2012). Transforming water economies. McKinsey on Sustainability & Resource Productivity. 1: 76-85. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from


Highest water prices in the world

A survey conducted by NUS Consulting Group reveals that water rates in 12 of the 14 participating countries have gone up, with Denmark being the most expensive. Water in Denmark costs US$6.7 per cubic metre. Denmark has claimed that the country has “long-standing policy” that all costs related to freshwater and wastewater disposal should be borne by the consumer. The OECD agrees with Denmark, saying that “high water costs can be beneficial to the environment, theorising that when consumers pay high costs they appreciate the scarcity of the resource and its true value”.

Highest water prices in the world. (2016, April 20). Daily Scandinavian. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from


Asia Pacific shows progress in water security, but challenges remain – ADB

According to a report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), water security in Asia and the Pacific has shown positive progress and is strengthening in the past five years. However, major challenges remain, which include “demand from rising populations and climate variability”. The region is the “most vulnerable” to water insecurity. Thus, there is a need to address this issue to sustain the region’s economic growth. Investments in good water management can increase economic and productivity growth for the countries. The ADB report examines water security status of 48 countries in five key dimensions, which include household access and resilience to water-related disasters. The full report can be downloaded here.

Asia Pacific shows progress in water security, but challenges remain – ADB. (2016, August 30). Asian Development Bank. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from


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Written by Mervin Teo