The Big Read: Without fanfare, a 40-strong team is laying the groundwork to save Singapore from sea level rise


SINGAPORE: Many folks sat up and took discover when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke at the 2019 National Day Rally about spending S$100 billion over the subsequent 50 to 100 years to shield Singapore from rising sea ranges.

It was in spite of everything, a matter of “life and death”, as Mr Lee put it.

Since then, the buzz has considerably dwindled as extra urgent points occupied Singaporeans’ minds. And there was additionally the not insignificant matter of a pandemic which seized Singapore and the remainder of the world, and really a lot put every part else on maintain.    

Quietly in the background although, efforts to lay the groundwork to shield Singapore’s coastal areas have continued unabated: For now, the gigantic activity of stopping elements of the island from changing into partially submerged beneath the waves — presumably by the finish of the century if nothing is performed — falls onto a group of public servants comprising senior assistant director Sarah Hiong, 36, senior engineer Eugene Lim, 33, and their colleagues from nationwide water company PUB’s coastal safety division.

Not that any of them are fazed by the measurement of the endeavor — the urgency and significance of which, in actual fact, appear to be misplaced on some members of the public akin to the team members’ personal family and friends.

“During Chinese New Year, or even at gatherings, when I tell them (friends and family) about my job, they will be like, ‘Oh, what is sea level rise and what do you do?’” stated Mr Lim. 

But as an alternative of getting disheartened by the lack of expertise, Mr Lim stated their curiosity usually presents him with a chance to educate them on the want to get Singapore prepared for rising sea ranges brought on by international warming and melting ice sheets.

Mr Lim has been with PUB for eight years. He beforehand held an operations-related function in one other PUB division, and was assigned to the coastal safety division in 2020 when it was first shaped.

The coastal safety division at present has greater than 40 members. 

“Transiting from an operations role to a planning role was something very, very new to me … but I thought it would be very exciting to be part of a pioneer team of engineers embarking on a journey to protect Singapore from sea level rise.”

Today, his team manages Singapore’s first site-specific examine for the City-East Coast shoreline which covers 57.8km of shoreline throughout areas together with Changi, East Coast, Marina East, Marina South in addition to a part of the Greater Southern Waterfront. The examine was introduced a 12 months in the past and is slated to full by 2025. 

Part of the job, stated Mr Lim, entails understanding the traits distinctive to the space, which is able to then enable PUB to design appropriate coastal safety measures.

Although the division was shaped throughout the top of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Lim stated it has been making “steady progress in charting coastal protection strategies to combat rising sea levels”.

According to information from the National Climate Change Secretariat, about 30 per cent of Singapore is lower than 5m above sea level. 

The sea ranges are projected to rise by 1m by 2100. However, they may go up to 4m or 5m above at the moment’s imply sea level if components akin to every day tidal exercise, storm surges and land subsidence — the sinking of land brought on by tectonic motion — are taken under consideration, stated PUB on its web site.

Referencing these information, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu stated in March that this is “high enough to potentially flood one-third of Singapore”.

PUB was appointed in April 2020 to lead and coordinate the Government’s efforts to shield Singapore’s coastlines. 

In any case, Ms Fu described coastal safety in her speech in March as a “long-term endeavour”.

Among these in the coastal safety division serving to with this endeavour is Ms Hiong and her masterplanning and regulatory team.

Ms Hiong, who has been with PUB for 13 years, stated her division is liable for reviewing Singapore’s lengthy term-coastal safety methods, insurance policies and rules that want to be put in place.

“As climate science and projections are continuously evolving, we have to think about the implications of different scenarios of sea level rise on Singapore. This complicates the planning of coastal protection strategies,” stated Ms Hiong, including that coastal safety in opposition to rising sea level is a comparatively new subject right here.

Unlike Mr Lim, Ms Hiong was beforehand from a division coping with local weather change adaptation plans for water provide and drainage infrastructure and was already “plugged” into the Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA) Coastal Adaptation Study.

“As a lot as (the subject of) coastal safety is acquainted to me, it is additionally thrilling to be a part of a model new operate for PUB.

“I think of it like a blank canvas. Today there is no coastal protection policy or master plan in place, so it is up to this team to … set the rules, so to speak,” she stated.

Still, Ms Hiong was fast to stress that this doesn’t imply that the coastal safety division is working in the darkish.

Aside from utilizing BCA’s examine as a start line, she stated Singapore is additionally studying from different nations which have already begun their journey akin to the United Kingdom and the world chief in coastal safety applied sciences, the Netherlands.

She added that PUB has additionally arrange a coastal safety panel, comprising consultants right here and overseas, to strengthen its information and experience in coastal engineering.

“So that really mitigates the problem of us working in the dark,” she stated.


One of the coastal safety division’s first duties was to conduct research on how to shield particular segments of the shoreline alongside City-East Coast.

The web site was recognized due to the potential impression a flood occasion would have on important belongings akin to the airport and financial and industrial districts inside the space, in addition to alternatives to dovetail with upcoming developments.

Mr Lim stated a part of the web site research entails analyzing the present circumstances of the shoreline, in addition to working with different authorities companies to discover out what their future land-use plans for the space are.

He added that the first tranche of the examine, which started in May final 12 months, was accomplished in December.

Aside from finishing literature critiques of present coastal safety measures used each regionally and internationally, he stated it highlighted the want to combine the “multifunctionality within our coastal defences” for land-scarce Singapore, in addition to the significance of stakeholder engagement.

A vertical sea wall in the south of Singapore. According to information from the National Climate Change Secretariat, about 30 per cent of Singapore is lower than 5m above sea level.

Another idea that the team discovered from different international locations and their professional panel is “adaptive planning”, stated Ms Hiong.

“What this approach entails is that we first implement coastal protection measures, such as sea walls, such that they are sufficient to safeguard Singapore against near to mid-term sea level rise while keeping long-term protection options open,” she stated.

Sea level rise is then monitored carefully, with plans reviewed recurrently.

“Should sea level rise faster than projected, we will activate the next round of construction to raise the coastal protection measures higher, ensuring that our coastal areas remain adequately protected,” stated Ms Hiong.

Additionally, the first stage of the examine had additionally recognized “data gaps” in biodiversity info.

“A big part of our consideration when developing measures is of course, their potential impact to the environment. So, we have commissioned a study to find out more on this,” Mr Lim stated.

PUB stated there are completely different nature parts to contemplate, akin to seagrass meadows and intertidal marine life in Changi, turtle nesting grounds at East Coast seashore, mangroves at Berlayer Creek, in addition to nature areas and coral reefs at Labrador Park.

Moving ahead, Mr Lim stated his team is in the technique of figuring out flood-risk areas and amassing web site information to help the subsequent stage of the examine, which entails the planning and design of coastal safety measures alongside the City-East Coast shoreline.

Similar research for the North-West Coast shoreline have not too long ago began, and one other for Jurong Island — led by web site developer JTC Corporation — will start this 12 months. PUB stated it hopes to full formulating coastal safety plans for these three areas by 2030.

Once that is performed, Mr Lim stated implementation of the measures will begin.

As for the different coastlines in Singapore, he stated that the respective site-specific research “will be rolled out progressively”.

PUB stated earlier this 12 months that the examine for the North-West Coast shoreline might be cut up into two separate research.

The first examine is a 24-km stretch from Tuas Checkpoint to Lim Chu Kang jetty that consists primarily dams and dykes that make up the Murai, Poyan, Sarimbun and Tengeh coastal reservoirs.

The second is a 15-km stretch that features Sungei Kadut and Lim Chu Kang, which not solely maintain key belongings akin to Kranji Reservoir and the Woodlands Checkpoint, however are additionally residence to nature areas in addition to industries akin to timber and waste administration.

Beyond these site-specific research, Ms Hiong stated PUB had additionally launched into the improvement of a Coastal-Inland Flood mannequin in April final 12 months, which is able to assist assess the impression of local weather change on Singapore’s coastal and low-lying areas.

“With the model, we can simulate the combined effects of both inland flood, which is caused by heavy rain, and coastal flood risks, caused by rising sea levels,” she stated.

This signifies that in principle, it could be doable to see how in depth the injury brought on by rising sea ranges could be if there aren’t any coastal safety measures in place.

While no deadline for when the purpose-built mannequin might be accomplished, Ms Hiong stated will probably be frequently up to date with the “latest climate data to help us evaluate the effectiveness of proposed coastal protection infrastructure”.


Given that Singapore is one in all the most densely populated and urbanised international locations in the world, Mr Lim identified that “this means that we can expect damage to be more extensive, like disruption to lives, damage to infrastructure, if we are inundated”.

And due to Singapore’s “very limited land”, there is a want to be inventive and discover coastal safety options that optimise land use or serve a number of makes use of so as to steadiness coastal resilience with different land wants.

While it is helpful to be taught and adapt what different international locations or cities have performed, Mr Lim stated there is a want to perceive why these measures work, and “critically review if they will be equally effective when implemented in Singapore, as our conditions are different”.

Ms Hiong additionally stated that the coastal safety division doesn’t work in isolation, as a massive a part of the work entails participating completely different stakeholders akin to different authorities companies, nature teams, companies and even residents.

“We are also learning along the way…and taking one step at a time. So we can’t say, ‘Oh we’re two years old, so we already have a plan for the whole country’. We’re taking it slowly, studying each site carefully while learning the best practices (from other countries).”

Be that as it might, Ms Hiong stated there are nonetheless segments of society who suppose that rising sea ranges is a “future problem”, and with nearly eight many years to go until the subsequent century, it might be deemed too far down the street for them to be involved with now.

But as a result of planning for coastal safety and the development of the bodily coastal safety constructions take time, it has to begin now.

Ms Hiong added that “beyond developing Singapore’s coastal protection strategies, there is also a need to educate and engage the public” to improve consciousness and understanding of the subject and what is at stake.

One means PUB has gone about this activity is by means of a three-part edutainment sequence about coastal safety, “The Investigations of Sea-rius Li”, that includes native actor Alaric Tay. The sequence, during which Ms Hiong additionally makes an look, was launched on PUB’s web site and social media channels in February.


As international warming continues its relentless march, rising sea ranges will not be a distant risk, scientists advised TODAY.

As it is, international sea level has been rising in the twentieth and twenty first centuries at an “unmatched rate” for no less than the final 3,000 years, stated Professor Benjamin Horton, the director at the Earth Observatory of Singapore at the Nanyang Technological University.

Prof Horton, whose analysis issues sea-level change, stated since 1900, the sea level has risen by 20cm and the “waters are only rising faster”.

He stated the common fee of sea level rise has elevated from 1mm per 12 months between 1901 and 1971, to 4mm per 12 months between 2006 and 2018.

While this would possibly look like a miniscule quantity, its impression has already been felt by a few of Singapore’s neighbours, akin to Indonesia the place its capital Jakarta is sinking at a fee of 10cm a 12 months due to a confluence of rising sea ranges, land subsidence and fast improvement.

The Indonesian authorities has since made a choice to shift its capital from the megacity, which has already sunk by no less than 2.5m in 10 years in accordance to a 2020 article by CNA, to Nusantara on the east coast of Borneo Island close to Balikpapan.

Elsewhere in the central Pacific Ocean, the standing of the low-lying atoll nation Marshall Islands as a nation is equally being threatened by rising waters.

A report by the World Bank final 12 months stated that projected sea level rise would imply 40 per cent of the buildings in the Marshall Islands’ capital of Majuro could be completely flooded and full islands would disappear.

Said Prof Horton: “We know that rising sea levels affect every coastal nation. But in the coming decades, the greatest effects will be felt in the Asia region, due to the number of people living in the continent’s low-lying coastal areas.”

He stated eight Asian international locations — China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Japan — are probably to be most adversely affected.

“Together, these eight nations account for roughly 70 per cent of the 340 million people on land facing flooding from sea-level rise by the middle of the 21st century,” he stated.

Associate Professor Koh Tieh Yong, a climate and local weather scientist from the School of Science and Technology at Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), additionally warned of different penalties of sea level rise which might have a knock-on impact on Singapore.

Regions akin to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam might expertise greater danger of coastal flooding throughout a storm, not solely as a result of they’re low-lying but additionally as a result of the societies there are extra weak.

“When it is not flooding, the intrusion of seawater into underground aquifers causes the soil to become more saline in the Mekong Delta. This threatens rice production in Vietnam, which is the third-largest supplier of rice to Singapore in 2020,” stated Assoc Prof Koh. 

Prof Horton added: “Here’s a miserable truth: Sea-level rise by means of to 2050 is mounted.

“No matter how quickly nations lower emissions now, the world is looking at about 15 to 30cm of sea-level rise through the middle of the century, given the long-drawn impact of global warming on the oceans and ice sheets.”

Assoc Prof Koh stated that even when the world achieves web carbon neutrality proper now, many generations of humanity will nonetheless have to dwell with local weather change. This is as a result of sufficient greenhouse gases have been emitted into the environment that international warming — and therefore, sea level rise — will proceed for the subsequent few hundred years.

“The train has left the station, so to speak, even if it is an electric train,” he stated.

As such, Prof Horton stated that adaptation to sea-level rise must be a long-term obligation.


Despite the considerably bleak outlook, each Mr Lim and Ms Hiong see similarities between the coastal safety division’s present goal and Singapore’s different long-standing existential difficulty — guaranteeing an enough water provide.

“Singapore is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, but through a combination of grit and ingenuity, we have managed to develop a robust and diversified water supply with the four National Taps strategy,” stated Mr Lim.

In essence, the technique entails sourcing water from native catchment areas, importing it from Malaysia, reusing it and desalinating it from the sea.

“Today, Singapore is recognised as a model city for its successful water management,” stated Mr Lim.

While rising sea ranges are certainly a multi-faceted and complicated problem, he shared that the division is optimistic that PUB will, in the identical means, flip this vulnerability into a chance.

Ms Hiong stated she is hopeful that this may remodel Singapore’s coastlines into “vibrant and beautiful spaces in time to come”.

“We are committed to using this opportunity to remake Singapore’s coastline, through integrating coastal protection plans with other agencies’ plans and through extensive stakeholders’ engagement to hear what they want to see in these coastal areas,” stated Ms Hiong.

PUB stated it intends to interact with the public, although particulars have but to be introduced.

“As a citizen, I am looking forward to enjoying these coastal areas myself in the future,” stated Ms Hiong.

This story was initially printed in TODAY.

The Big Read: Without fanfare, a 40-strong team is laying the groundwork to save Singapore from sea level rise

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