Public Utilities Board Singapore, equipping youth with the necessary knowledge


Interview with Shengwei Yeo, Assistant Managing Director at Singapore International Water Week for the Public Utilities Board Singapore

1. Can you briefly tell us about yourself and your organization?

About myself

I joined PUB in 2008, and my first role was to promote more activities and attract more visitors to the Marina Barrage, a unique facility that provides 3-in-1 benefits of flood control, water supply and a lifestyle attraction. Since 2010, I have been part of the team assigned to grow the Singapore water industry, leveraging activities such as the Singapore International Water Week, the global platform to share and co-create innovative water solutions.

About PUB

As the national water agency, PUB manages Singapore’s water supply, water catchment and used water in an integrated way.
Through integrated water management and investments in technology, PUB has ensured a diversified and sustainable supply of water for Singapore with the Four National Taps: 1. Local catchment water, 2. Imported water, 3. NEWater (ultra-clean, high-grade recycled water), 4. Desalinated water. PUB also works closely with other Singapore government agencies to grow the Singapore water industry and profile Singapore as a Global Hydrohub.

2. What were the reasons for supporting youth involvement at the 7th World Water Forum?

Firstly, WWF is the largest water event in the world, which gives youth a great opportunity to meet with global water communities, gain sufficient exposure to current water situation and challenges faced, and take actions to fulfil their responsibilities correspondingly.

Secondly, Singapore International Water Week (SIWW) has always been active in engaging youth to equip them with necessary knowledge in water issues and facilitate opportunities for them to excel in water sector as next generation of leaders. We would like to let more youth know about us, about Singapore, and what we can offer to them.

Lastly, we wanted to show our support for a fantastic partner– Water Youth Network. WYN is one of the key partners for Hydro-Gen, our youth programme at SIWW. The enthusiasm and professionalism demonstrated gives us confidence in continuing the good work with each other at many other platforms.

3. How does Singapore International Water Week encourage youth participation?

As a global platform for sharing and co-creation of innovative water solutions, engaging the youth has always been a cornerstone of the event. At SIWW 2014, we organized the immensely successful Hydro-Gen (short for Hydro-Generation), a series of events and programmes to groom the future generation of water leaders. We have the Young Water Leaders Summit focusing on policy and governance. It was a truly global affair, with about 100 youths from over 30 countries participating. We also provided them with opportunities to interact with global water CEOs, industry decision-makers and senior water experts at the Water Leaders Summit and Water Convention.
We also organized the HydroPreneur Programme for training entrepreneurs. The HydroPreneur Programme also helped over 50 aspiring global water entrepreneurs to develop water start-ups and commercialise their technologies.
Next, we had the Young Water Professionals Panel focused on career development for aspiring water industry professionals. Last but not least, secondary and primary school students also participated in Education Day at Water Expo and Water Showcases at our Active, Beautiful and Clean Water Projects.
We hope to welcome more young leaders and entrepreneurs at next SIWW, 10-14 July 2016.

4. Why is water an important topic to you?

As you may know, Singapore is a small island without many natural resources. Water has always been an existential and strategic issue for Singapore since its independence. That is why it is always high on the government’s agenda and PUB has put in much effort to create a robust and diversified water supply that everyone conserves, values, and enjoys.

5. What are some of the contributions (projects, campaigns or any other works) of your organization in the water sector?

Among all contributions and achievements made by PUB over the past five decades, I would just like to highlight a few.

As the national water agency, PUB’s mission is to ensure an efficient, adequate and sustainable supply of water. Technology is a key driver for us to overcome our water challenges and enhance the resilience of our water supply. A prime example would be NEWater, which was introduced in 2003. This was about 25 years after the initial foray into water recycling in the 1970s, when the high costs and the unproven reliability of membrane technology at that time put paid to any plans to take things further. By the 1990s, membrane technology had improved considerably in terms of cost and performance, and PUB started to relook at water reuse, setting up a study team to test the use of the latest proven membrane technology in water reclamation for potable purposes. Combined with a wide-ranging and sustained public communications effort, we now have NEWater as one of our Four National Taps (together with imported water, local catchment water, and desalination).

Water is also an economic asset that contributes to employment and economic growth. Against this backdrop, PUB spearheads a multi-agency outfit – the Environment and Water Industry Programme Office (EWI) – which aims to spearhead and grow the water industry. The EWI does this by bringing in international companies, grooming local champions, incubating innovative technologies, as well as internationalizing Singapore-based water companies. Today, Singapore is home to a thriving cluster of more than 150 international and local water companies as well as 26 R&D centres, a rapid growth since our humble beginning with just 50 water companies and 3 water R&D centres in 2006. Over the same period, Singapore-based water companies have secured more than S$10 billion worth of international projects.

PUB also contributes our knowledge to the global water community. We constantly share our experiences, and approaches with other countries through various platforms. One such platform is the Singapore International Water Week, where over 20,000 participants from 133 countries/regions participated in 2014. We also share our experiences at international events, for instance at the recently concluded 7WWF where PUB spoke on water reuse, smart water and innovation. We also organize several training sessions on sustainable water management in Singapore for government officials and water industry professionals worldwide.

6. What do you think is the biggest water challenge Singapore and the world in general is facing today?

One of the most common challenges we face is extreme weather patterns brought about by climate change. In 2014, we faced a prolonged dry spell from mid Jan to mid March. In fact, the prolonged dry weather set a new record for February 2014 being the driest month in Singapore since 1869.. To ensure that our water needs are met, we ran our desalination and NEWater plants at close to full capacity. Together, desalinated water and NEWater can meet about half of current demand. We also topped up our reservoirs with NEWater to maintain the reservoir levels in preparation for possible extended dry periods. Our investments in NEWater and desalination over the years have diversified our sources of water supply and strengthened our water security, allowing us to “weather” the dry spell.

City-states like Singapore and other regions that are vulnerable to the global environment should constantly stay vigilant and explore opportunities to work together and share best practices to prepare ourselves well for the future.

7. What is your one message for the youth?

Work hard, but not forgetting to live a fulfilling life to constantly pursue knowledge, influence others and make an impact to the world.