Crossed With The Cross Island Line – Where We Draw The Line

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The debate on the Cross Island Line has been progressing steadily since the release of the first phase of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). On the one hand, we have witnessed how proponents of the Cross Island Line’s currently planned route have continually supported the Land Transport Authority’s plan to encroach into the Central Catchment Nature Reserve to construct a new MRT line. This is in spite of the environmental consequences that have been spelt out by the EIA. It has been found that these consequences cannot be mitigated in their entirety or even with a level of confidence high enough to guarantee minimal impact on our local biodiversity. On the other hand, we see a group of concerned Singaporeans, from geographers and scientists to environmentalists and ordinary citizens advocating for the proposed alternative route along Lornie Road. Even NParks’ former conservation manager of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve has joined the chorus of voices against the current route. Much has been fairly said about the specific localised and generalised merits and drawbacks of each route.

 

Contrary to what some might assume, however, this debate is not just about pragmatism versus principle. It is not the usual kind of trade-off we have witnessed in the course of our nation’s development. This debate is one that will help shape environmental governance, land use planning and our notions of sustainable development as our nation matures.

 

Central to the arguments over the Cross Island Line is the type of sustainable development Singapore will show it is committed to, through its decision. What environmental groups like the Nature Society are arguing for, whilst focusing on the intrinsic value of biodiversity, stops short of deep green philosophy. By accepting the real need for better transport infrastructure, capacity and efficiency to support a growing population, these arguments are more in line with the kind of sustainable development that Singapore has been accustomed to than with what the typical pragmatic Singaporean may think of as mere idealistic drivel or bluster. The alternative route, while costlier, will prevent encroachment into the most pristine of our nature reserves while meeting the demands of a 6.9 million-strong population. Simply put, the economic loss brought about by building the alternative route today will be worth what we stand to gain from this decision in the future. It is crucial to note that not only do we stand to conserve our local biodiversity for future generations to learn about, our public transport operators will also benefit economically from having the chance to build one more station along the alternative route. Indeed, residents in Central Singapore will get to partake in the joy of being better connected to both Jurong and Changi like never before. We will all stand to gain from the alternative route of the Cross Island Line which is a project that boasts clear benefits for most of the suburbs that it will ply.

 

Too often, however, the end game of sustainable development in Singapore has involved environmental losses, in the pursuit of economic or social gain. We live in a country where greenery, no matter how man-made or manufactured, is viewed no differently from that which is natural. We relish in the number of neighbourhood parks we have access to, and in the image of the Garden City, nay – a City in a Garden. But we forget that even a garden no matter how well-manicured or maintained cannot truly conserve the biodiversity that is unique to our Central Catchment Nature Reserve. When we build an expressway through the rainforest, we build a bridge for animals to cross the gap and hail it as a unique solution to a necessary problem. Today, we are committed as a nation to even more land reclamation, drawn out in the 2030 Land Use Plan that will harm more coastal ecosystems in the name of development. Against the backdrop that this mentality provides, for all the merit our nature reserves hold, they are not valued as much as environmental resources upon which we depend more directly are. Interestingly, the water in MacRitchie Reservoir is valued more highly than the trees that surround it, than the soil through which it infiltrates, than the flora and fauna that depend on it as much as we do.

 

Granted, in the past, development necessitated many trade-offs. Even today, such trade-offs may very well be necessary. However, given not only our current level of development but also the need for us to become smarter and more innovative in addressing land use planning challenges that will only provide more strain with a rising population in the future, the current Singaporean style of sustainable development needs to be rethought.

 

Otherwise, it is worth questioning if the story of the Cross Island Line presents the new normal of environmental governance in Singapore. Where one government department develops a national biodiversity strategy and another ignores it? Where we change our tune on the environment depending on whom we are talking to? – It is interesting that on the one hand, we tell the world that we are committed to a new global environmental pact founded upon the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities insofar as climate change is concerned. But, on the other hand, we cannot even be committed to safeguarding the green lungs of our own backyard even though we can financially afford to via a potentially viable alternative? The issues of climate change and encroachment into our nature reserves may not be directly linked. But, the clearer picture that the Cross Island Line debate paints of our attitude about the environment suggests that we may not yet be as committed to a new Earth systems-based model of sustainable development as our well-executed dealings in COP 21 may have had begun to suggest.

 

What we stand to lose from the construction of the Cross Island Line’s current route, however, is much greater than the lost opportunity of increased transport efficiency and capacity. Our commitment to sustainable development is on the line. Today, it might be the Cross Island Line. In a few decades’ time, it might be a residential or industrial development. As most people would surely hope for, Singapore will be around for a long time. Shying away from making smarter decisions about land use planning today will only exacerbate our urban problems in the future in what shall certainly be a more complicated landscape.

 

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Environmental Governance in Singapore – Questioning the Narrative, Questioning the Future

Singapore

The evolution of environmental policy in Singapore is a topic that has intrigued me for a quite a while now. Growing up, the narrative since primary school had always been that the foresight of our pioneering post-Independence leaders paved the way for the rise of the Garden City1 – the clean and green Singapore, as it we know it today. The city that we hold ourselves responsible to keep litter-free, the city with streets lined with trees methodically planted to splash shades of green upon the mundane grey of our pavements and roads.

At the same time, we learnt that the removal of the negative externalities harboured by the Singapore of the past was necessary to improve our environment so as to render our nation attractive for foreign investors1. A clean nation was not good for public health and the well-being of our own people; it had broader economic consequences that would make Singapore stand out against the rest of the developing Southeast Asian nations of the time.

Today, Singapore’s economic success has been, in part, hailed as one that was borne out of foresight in environmental governance1. However, not all is well with the environment in Singapore. What was seen as necessary development yesterday is today perceived to be the destruction of relics of the past. The changing landscape of Singapore foreshadowed the trade-offs2 we had to make in losing our natural heritage, built heritage and even cultural heritage for the sake of economic development. This is a reality Singaporeans today are all too well aware of and perhaps too complacent about.

Of course, the current government does not deserve all the blame for this. Indeed, one of the most consequential alterations made to our environment was carried out by our former colonial masters. The extensive deforestation of natural vegetation in Singapore provides us with the historical context to explain the existence of merely 0.04% of our natural forest cover that remains today3. To be fair, the government has also done a fair bit to preserve what they felt they could. Our historic cultural districts have always been a feature of our built heritage. Today, iconic suburbs are conferred the title of ‘Identity Node’ to celebrate their unique place in modern Singaporean history4.

Nevertheless, we are faced by challenges today that will require us to rethink environmental governance in Singapore. Steps have been taken in this direction – sustainability perhaps means more today in the context of Singapore’s environmental governance than it had in the past1; climate change is also being looked at by the government2. But is this enough of a shift in our approach or in our assessment of our desired ends? There are pertinent questions to be answered within the next 50 years. Are we ready for climate change? When will we pause for a second to realise there surely must be limits to the amount of land we can reclaim? Can we predict what our optimum population and the corresponding infrastructural requirements will ever be? Are we going to continue to trade our natural heritage for more development, more economic gains and more convenience?

There are questions to be answered. But first, enough of us need to ask them.

References:

[1] Tan, P.Y., Wang, J. & Sia, A. (2013). Perspectives on five decades of the urban greening of Singapore. Cities, 32, 24-32.

[2] Tan, F., Lean, H.H. & Khan, H. (2014). Growth and environmental quality in Singapore: Is there any trade-off? Ecological Indicators, 47, 149-155.

[3] Castelletta, M., Thiollay, J.M. & Sodhi, N.S. (2005). The effects of extreme forest fragmentation on the bird community of Singapore Island. Biological Conservation, 121, 135-155.

[4] Yuen, B. (2005). Searching for place identity in Singapore. Habitat International, 29, 197-214.

Quantifying Air Quality – The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI)

PSI

Most Developed Countries (DCs) regulate environmental standards by putting caps on the emissions of criteria pollutants that empirical evidence has shown to be harmful to human health1. The PSI is one way to quantify air quality and has been adopted by Singapore to be the authoritative indicator of air quality in the country. Once quantified, it also aids in informing the public about the risks posed by different levels of air quality by affixing health advisories to each level.

Since 2013, every incident of transboundary haze brings with it a period during which the PSI becomes an oft-cited figure amongst ordinary Singaporeans in our daily lives. It seems as if when communicating about air quality with one another, merely saying that air quality is unfavourable would be unsatisfactory. A means by which we can put a number to air quality gives people a sense of scale as well as benchmarks for comparison as air quality usually varies as often as throughout the course of a day.

How is the PSI calculated?

The concentration of each criteria pollutant is compared to a standard index which is used to determine the sub-index assigned to the most recent recording of the concentration of the pollutant in question. The highest sub-index, whichever criteria pollutant that may represent, is taken as the PSI level2.

The PSI, as it was calculated before April 2014, took into account five criteria air pollutants. These were SO2, nitrous oxides, CO, PM10, and O3. The inclusion of PM2.5 occurred in 20142 when the National Environment Agency was of the opinion that a greater focus on PM2.5 was necessary to better reflect reality on the ground in the air as PM2.5 are finer particles that pose a higher threat to human respiratory health as compared to the more generalized pollutant known to us as PM10.

Was the inclusion of PM2.5 as a criteria pollutant in April 2014 necessary?

Velasco and Rastan (2015)3 of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology and the National University of Singapore respectively, certainly seem to think so. A paper published by the pair in 2015 noted that “the real hourly pollution levels” during the haze incident that year had still been unrecorded. This was in no small part attributable to the fact that before 2014, the only indication of PM2.5 in the atmosphere was the PM10 reading. This was in spite of the fact that during the episode, it was shown that the reported PM10 levels had been an under-representation of the significantly poor quality of air that existed in reality at the time. The methodology undertaken by Velasco and Rastan was to use newly collected information on PM2.5 concentrations since April 2014 and derive statistical models by which they could predict with an insignificant degree of uncertainty the actual hourly PM2.5 during the episode in mid-2013. Their findings indicate that these values could very well have been “twice the maximum 24-hour moving average reported by the authorities.”3

The findings of Velasco and Rastan seem to provide credence to the notion that incorporating PM2.5 as a new criteria pollutant measured by the PSI was a good move on the part of the local authorities. While it seems intuitive that more needs to be done to overcome the problem of the lag time in the official PSI readings published by NEA, refining the methods of measurement of the PSI seems to be a step in the right direction.

References:

[1] Hamilton, S.F. & Requate, T. (2012). Emissions standards and ambient environmental quality standards with stochastic environmental services. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 64, 377-389. Retrieved from http://ac.els-cdn.com/S0095069612000538/1-s2.0-S0095069612000538-main.pdf?_tid=694d5626-7df9-11e5-ae0e-00000aacb35f&acdnat=1446094767_6ae8a0a14e35f289d579711c6397edb6.

[2] National Environment Agency. (2015). PSI. [Online]. Retrieved from http://www.nea.gov.sg/anti-pollution-radiation-protection/air-pollution-control/psi/psi.

[3] Velasco, E. & Rastan, S. (2015). Air quality in Singapore during the 2013 smoke-haze episode over the Strait of Malacca: Lessons learned. Sustainable Cities and Society, 17, 122-131. Retrieved from http://ac.els-cdn.com/S2210670715000463/1-s2.0-S2210670715000463-main.pdf?_tid=fd72d6f8-7dfb-11e5-b248-00000aab0f26&acdnat=1446095874_7c02d98301a4465fb7cb71472bc5fa0a.

Transboundary Haze – Care To Air Your Views?

Haze
Dr Haridas
Ms Lee Li Lian
Beckham
Tirta

The haze affects different people in different ways. But there are things we can do to make life a bit better for those around us and ourselves as well.

My aunt, Dr Haridas, whilst keenly aware of the health hazards posed by the haze and that she has to look out for patients showing symptoms of haze-related health issues, also knows she has to exercise due diligence by not assuming that every patient who reports irritation to his or her eyes, for instance, is not suffering as such due to the haze alone.

Ms Lee Li Lian, using her voice and influence as my Member of Parliament, had tabled a Parliamentary Question in 2013 to ask the Minister for Health “(a) what effort has been made to make parents more aware of the advice that N95 masks are not designed for children; and (b) whether the Government intends to make available masks that are certified for children in public health emergencies.” 1Today, she continues her efforts to help the local community in various ways, having distributed masks to residents at a grassroots event recently.

My young friend and neighbour, Beckham plays his own part as well by reminding his secondary school friends on Facebook to wear masks when leaving the house.

And last but by no means least, my best friend Tirta whilst feeling sympathetic towards his fellow countrymen who have little choice but to bear the worst consequences of the haze, also recognises that this is a problem that not only doctors, politicians and those more vulnerable to the effects of the haze should be worried about – it is a problem that speaks to all of us, young or old, with urgency regardless of how seemingly helpless ordinary folk like us may perceive ourselves to be.

References:

[1] Parliament of Singapore. (2013). Safeguarding Singaporeans’ Health During Occurrence of Haze. Official Reports -Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), 90, Sitting 19. Retrieved from http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00000151-WA&currentPubID=00000140-WA&topicKey=00000140-WA.00000151-WA_2%2Bid-43fcd59a-3ee3-45fa-a762-817fde5e1d55%2B4.

Photo Credits:

IMG: Ms Lee Li Lian – Punggol East Constituency Committee

IMG: Beckham – Beckham Song Ying

The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act: What It Can and Cannot Do.

Hansard

The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act was introduced to Parliament on 7th July 2014. It was debated by the House on 4th August 2014, committed to a Committee of the Whole House and passed after its Third Reading a day later on 5th August 20141. The Act came into effect on 25th September 20142.

The introduction of the Bill to the House came a year after Singapore suffered its worst incidence of air pollution caused by haze, with the highest recorded PSI levels the country had ever experienced3. In his opening speech to the House on the occasion of the Second Reading of the Bill4, then Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, noted that the a legislative approach to Singapore’s response to the haze was necessitated not so much by Indonesia’s lack of environmental laws as by their lack of ability in enforcing these laws.

Part II of the Act sets out commercial or other entities’ liabilities for transboundary air pollution5. The provisions contained therein make it an offence for entities to be involved in causing haze. The law extends the scope of entities or companies covered under the Act to include those that may not be directly causing haze but are in some way involved in the management of another entity or company that owns land and contributes to causing haze from there. Furthermore, the legislation also specifies that it shall be a statutory duty of such companies to ensure compliance. Entities that have been found to have acted in contravention of the Act are also liable to provide compensation if there is evidence that the haze caused by them has affected any “person, property or the environment” in Singapore.

A key feature of the Act is the extraterritorial nature of the extent and reach of the legislation. The Act applies not only to companies based within Singapore but also to foreign-owned ones. Minister Balakrishnan assured the House that, “This exercise of extra-territorial jurisdiction under this Bill is in line with international law, specifically the objective territorial principle.” However, the effectiveness of the extraterritoriality of the Act is questionable. Then Non-Constituency Member of Parliament, Mr Yee Jenn Jong of the Workers’ Party, rose to point out6 that Singapore has no extradition treaty with Indonesia and that, “If the accused person fails to appear in court, a warrant of arrest is issued under Section 17. This will likely have little or no effect if the person is not in Singapore.”

Other practical constraints limit the effectiveness of the Act. In order to prosecute perpetrators, the Government of Singapore would have to be able to accurately identify them according to the lands on which forest fires were started and spread to. However, this can only be done if Indonesia agrees to share cartographic information with Singapore. Even if the Indonesian authorities agreed to do so, the prevailing complexity of forested land tenure issues in Indonesia would render it onerous to distinguish the rightful owners of the land in question from commercial perpetrators if indeed such distinctions can and ought to be made in the first place. This was a point raised by the then Nominated Member of Parliament, Ms Faizah Jamal, who represented environmental interests in the House.

During the debate on the Bill, MPs from all sides of the House recognised that the key to solving the woes of transboundary haze lies beyond a legislative approach. Member of Parliament for Marine Parade, Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef said, “Education must continue. Commitment must be inculcated. Mutual trust must continue to be strengthened.” Mr Yee of the Workers’ Party urged the Government to not only look at how forest fires can be prevented but to extend our diplomatic efforts to helping Indonesia develop “a more sustainable agro-industry.” The most sobering view, however, came from Ms Jamal, who proclaimed that the Government has to take the lead in changing our approach to the bigger picture of consumerism for the better. She said, “The ordinary citizen as consumers should be made aware that they have the power to change a business model that has thus far been more concerned about profits than about people or planet, provided citizens start by taking back responsibility for their own part in the problem. It is no use playing the blame game when there is no sense of personal responsibility for the consumer choices that we make individually and collectively as a country.” Today, with the greying of our skies once again, local companies took to improving their consumption practices with much support from the public.

Two things are certain. From an environmentalist’s perspective, it should not have to take a bad bout of haze for us to improve the way we use the environment. And, from a political and legal perspective, it will not take a single Act of Parliament alone to prevent these bouts from recurring to colour our skies grey once again.
References:

[1] Parliament of Singapore. (2014). Bills Introduced. Singapore: Parliament of Singapore. Retrieved from http://www.parliament.gov.sg/publications/bills-introduced.

[2] National Environment Agency. (2014). Parliament Statements. Singapore: Government of Singapore. Retrieved from http://www.nea.gov.sg/corporate-functions/newsroom/parliament.

[3] Velasco, E. & Rastan, S. (2015). Air quality in Singapore during the 2013 smoke-haze episode over the Strait of Malacca: Lessons learned. Sustainable Cities and Society, 17, 122-131.

[4] Parliament of Singapore. (2014). Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill. Official Reports -Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), 92, Sitting 10. Retrieved from http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00006470-WA&currentPubID=00006417-WA&topicKey=00006417-WA.00006470-WA_2%2Bid-2242cb2e-c3e5-4597-9bfa-bbaa6c57a231%2B.

[5] Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014 (Act 24 of 2014).

[6] Parliament of Singapore. (2014). Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill. Official Reports -Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), 92, Sitting 11. Retrieved from http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00006478-WA&currentPubID=00006482-WA&topicKey=00006482-WA.00006478-WA_1%2Bid-4067f594-ea00-4e20-ac4b-1ad5493c5b74%2B.

Clearing the Air on the Haze – A Hazy New Year?

Haze

“As any geographer would attest to, the haze itself might be dull in sight, but insight into the haze is surely never boring.”

The Straits Times reported on October 19th 2015 that the haze could persist until 20161. A researcher from the Centre for International Forestry Research was quoted as saying that it might very well last until the final month of 2015 or the first month of next year. Unsurprisingly, many Singaporeans might wonder why we are to bear the brunt of the haze for a longer period than our squeaky clean and ‘sterile’ respiratory airways are normally accustomed to. Amongst the reasons for the persistence of the haze are factors of a geographical nature.

The seasonal monsoons experienced in this part of the world that straddles the Equator are the main culprits. In June 2013, the worst haze in Singapore’s meteorological history was recorded. The southwest monsoon was the main cause of the haze as winds blowing from Sumatra to Singapore carried a comparatively higher concentration of particulate matter (PM) particles with them2. In March 2014, the haze was back again – but this time, the northeast monsoon was the primary cause of the public’s ire. Its northeasterly winds were retreating back northwards3, accompanying the gradually moving Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) with the approach of warmer temperatures in the northern hemisphere. Now, in October 2015, however, one would expect a taming of the haze as the northeast monsoon comes to our rescue – to rid us of the prevailing southwesterly winds that have been carrying too many PM particles4 with frequencies greater than comfort ordinarily affords. However, in any given locality, the replacement of the southwest monsoon by the northeast monsoon during the inter-monsoon period is a gradual process5 that requires patience on the part of the people who would be expected to relish in this seasonal change.

SST

Diagram 1: Sea Surface Temperature anomalies across the tropical Pacific (22nd October 2015) enable us to visualise the temperature disparities across the Pacific Ocean that drive the El Niño Southern Oscillation. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), United States.


This time, however, hope for clearer skies might be further afield than initially expected due to the current cycle of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) being experienced in our part of the world. The ENSO is brought about by cross-longitudinal changes in oceanic water circulation that results in a change in temperatures across oceans (Diagram 1). In the case of the eastern margins of the Pacific Ocean, warmer sea surface temperatures bring higher rainfall to South American countries such as Chile. The corollary to this is that Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia that lie along the western margins of the Pacific Ocean experience drier conditions brought about by easterly winds rid of moisture6. The ENSO occurs every few years and lasts for variable periods of time7. Drier conditions that may exacerbate forest fires in Indonesia due to the persistence of the ENSO are the reason cited by geographers and meteorologists as to why the haze might continue up until January 2016. It is worth noting that this is certainly not the first time the ENSO and Indonesian forest fires made for a fearsome combination. In 1997, the ENSO brought about forest fires in Kalimantan, Indonesia that emitted a thick aerosol plume, forcing the shutting down of airports in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

There might exist a commonly held misconception in the Singaporean psyche – that our country does not experience seasonal changes in weather patterns. We do. There is also perhaps a feeling amongst those who are uninitiated with the geography of weather and climate that compared to life in temperate countries, living in Singapore makes for a boring existence due to the high year-round temperatures and rainfall experienced here where snow can only be artificially manufactured in air-conditioned enclosures and where tomorrow’s weather must surely be as mundane as that of any other day in the year. On the contrary, our susceptibility to seasonal weather patterns has impacts on our daily lives that are more real than one might imagine, given the right conditions (in this case, an anthropogenic condition imposed upon us by our neighbours which is being heightened in its effect by physical conditions). As any geographer would attest to, the haze itself might be dull in sight, but insight into the haze is surely never boring.


References:

[1] The Straits Times. (2015). Hazy new year: South-east Asia set to suffer for months as Indonesia fails to douse fires. (2015, October 19). Retrieved from http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/hazy-new-year-south-east-asia-set-to-suffer-for-months-as-indonesia-fails-to-douse.

[2] Velasco, E. & Rastan, S. (2015). Air quality in Singapore during the 2013 smoke-haze episode over the Strait of Malacca: Lessons learned. Sustainable Cities and Society, 17, 122-131.

[3] Meteorological Service Singapore. (2014). Update of Regional Weather and Smoke Haze for April 2014. Singapore: Government of Singapore. Retrieved from http://wip.weather.gov.sg/wip/pp/ssops/reparch/apr14.pdf.

[4] Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (2015). Press Statement: Singapore Registers Haze Concerns with Indonesia. (2015, September 10). Retrieved from http://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/overseasmission/jakarta/press_statements_speeches/2015/201509/Singapore_Registers_Haze_Concerns_With_Indonesia.html.

[5] ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre. (2015). Update of Regional Weather and Smoke Haze for September 2015. Singapore: Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Retrieved from http://asmc.asean.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Sep15.pdf.

[6] Cane, M. (2005). The evolution of El Niño, past and future. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 230, 227-240.

[7] Chen, D. & Cane, M.A. (2008). El Niño prediction and predictability. Journal of Computation Physics, 227, 3625-3640.

Mapping Our Home, Mapping The House

http://tinyurl.com/lujo6lj

The Republic of Singapore – 87 Constituencies

Pulau Ujong. A name of utter unfamiliarity which would only make you think less than twice about passing it off as another one of those small offshore islands or islets that we would go to ‘war’ to protect our sovereignty over at all costs (and by ‘war’, what I really mean is the International Court of Justice). Ironically, if you’re reading this from the Republic of Singapore, chances are, you’re on it. Pulau Ujong is none other than mainland Singapore. Intrinsically, knowing about the place we inhabit informs us of what it means to be Singaporean for how can we claim to be truly Singaporean if we are unaware of our local environment? Knowing about the spaces we live, play and work in from a geopolitical perspective also affords us several practical benefits in areas such as landuse planning and electioneering.

The political map of Singapore has evolved through the ages, reflecting differences in electoral systems, population densities, infrastructure and land use. The 12th Parliament of Singapore consists of 87 elected MPs, each representing a different constituency. However, with the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system introduced in 1988, most MPs are elected in groups and modern political maps in Singapore usually only show GRCs and a handful of single seats in the existing Single Member Constituencies (SMCs). However, from a practical perspective, knowledge of which individual ward ones lives in is important for the purpose of knowing which MP to visit should one wish to attend a Meet-the-People Session (MPS) and, indeed, for the greater purpose of keeping our elected MPs accountable for their actions (which entails knowing who they are, in the first place!). Currently, a map that shows every ward as if it were a SMC does not exist. However, using information gathered from a variety of sources, I managed to map out the 87 constituencies of Singapore so that everyone can know which district they live in.

Link to map: https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=z7C8bz0UE1gI.ksK88Xfv6Ivg

Each constituency sends 1 MP to the House, either individually (SMCs) or in groups (GRCs).

Each constituency sends 1 MP to the House, either individually (SMCs) or in groups (GRCs).

Diversity within Singapore

Knowing which district we live in affords us a sense of identity. People affix memories and experiences to places and spaces in an intangible manner. A common and easily comprehensible example of this is the sense of identity and belonging people declare when associating themselves with the neighbourhoods in which they spent their childhood, almost as if they feel they have a sense of personal ownership of those areas. From a political perspective, spatial identity is especially signficant in a representative democracy such as ours where our legislators represent constituencies that are demarcated by geographical boundaries. It is, therefore, no wonder that politicians often make it a point to draw a link between their past personal experiences with their constituencies. In the Parliamentary Election of 2011, Jeannette-Chong Aruldoss of the National Solidarity Party referenced her childhood experiences in Mountbatten SMC to highlight her view that the constituency has lost its “idyllic charm…in the seventies” and now reflects a widening socio-economic divide and that Mountbatten is, therefore, a microcosm of the rest of the country. More simplistically, in the Punggol East SMC By-Election of 2013, the People’s Action Party candidate Dr Koh Poh Koon was famously touted as being “the Son of Punggol” while perhaps carelessly forgetting that the seat he was running for was indeed in Sengkang and not actually Punggol. I reckon my map will help Dr Koh get his geography right. In any case, however, both of these examples show that cartography or, at least, the evaluation of local maps is important for our identity.

Political maps also help elucidate patterns of population density and land use. By virtue of the fact that each constituency in Singapore purposely accounts for roughly 20 000 to 30 000 electors, it is easy to infer population densities across the country. For instance, it is quite clear that Yew Tee Constituency is less densely populated than, say, the ward of Teck Ghee, judging from land area. However, this is not to say that the residential areas in Yew Tee are sparsely located as most of the land is used for military purposes. Hence, the map is useful for gauging population density on a constituency-scale in Singapore rather than on a smaller scale. Interestingly, a comparison with older political maps provides supporting evidence for the decentralisation of residences in Singapore over the years. In the 1960’s, when every seat was a SMC, the smaller constituencies were located in the urban core whilst the rural surroundings housed the larger ones (refer to map below). Furthermore, a detailed political map of Singapore also sheds some light on land use. As in the case of Yew Tee and other large cosntituencies such as Zhenghua and Siglap, the areas not used up for residential purposes serve other uses – military, environmental conservation, aviation, etc.

General Election 1968 - Results. Credit: singapore-elections.com

General Election 1968 – Results. Credit: singapore-elections.com

Constituency-based maps also aid in tracking changes in electoral boundaries. Variations in delimitation have been a contentious issue in Singapore’s political system, given the frequent re-drawing of the boundaries of GRCs at every election by the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) which is under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office. The lack of explanatory information in the reports of the EBRC has been cited as further evidence of gerrymandering and partiality. Most recently, the constituency of Aljunied – Hougang which traditionally votes strongly in favour of the Workers’ Party, as it did in the close contest in Aljunied GRC in 2006, was shifted out into Ang Mo Kio GRC and re-named ‘Ang Mo Kio – Hougang’ in 2011. Because of the unpredictability of the electoral map in Singapore, perhaps a single-constituency map will allow political parties to view different agglomerations of wards or potential GRCs in a more accessbile and efficient manner, enabling them to possibly draw out their electoral contingency and campaigning plans more easily in the future.

Methodology and Sources

To derive the boundaries of each constituency, I used information from a variety of sources such as Town Council websites, most of which provide information on almost every individual ward albeit to different degrees. The People’s Association’s constituency tracker which uses postal codes to identify constituencies as well as Community Development Council websites also came in handy. Another crucial source of information was a map on Google Maps published as ‘The Ward Boundary Project 2012/3’, which provided me with the boundaries of many of the wards in the eastern half of Singapore. Where the boundaries were more difficult to differentiate and delineate, I used a list of revised polling districts published by the Elections Department as well as a map of each polling district within each GRC and SMC in Singapore, both of which are documents that specifically pertain to the 2011 Parliamentary Elections. (Note: A ‘polling district’ refers to a smaller group of electors within a constituency. Each ‘polling district’ accounts for one polling station.)

Maps are so much more than what most people take them at face value for. Any able Geographer knows this. It is my earnest hope that this map will be interesting and not solely useful to people who may require reference to it. This concludes yet another one of my Mapped Musings, although in a more literal sense this time.

References:

Government Gazette. Elections Department, (2011). No. 63 – Parliamentary Elections Act (Chapter 218) (Section 9(2)) – Boundaries of Altered Polling Districts. Retrieved from website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/gazette\G_RE2011\Boundaries of Altered Polling District.pdf

Lay, B. (2013, January 27). Three reasons why Dr Koh Poh Koon lost Punggol East. Yahoo! News. Retrieved from http://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/the-flipside/three-reasons-why-dr-koh-poh-koon-lost-230036743.html

National Solidarity Party. (2011). Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss. Retrieved from http://mountbatten.nsp.sg/about-jeannette/

Parliament of Singapore. (2014, February 14). List of Constituencies. Retrieved from http://www.parliament.gov.sg/list-constituencies

Teo, E. (2013, March 19). The Ward Boundary Project 2012/3. Retrieved from https://maps.google.com.sg/maps/ms?msid=201386689841976634251.0004d0404d9abf09208c8&msa=0

The Online Citizen. (2010, April 27). GRCs and Gerrymandering – The Root Causes of Problems: Sylvia Lim. Retrieved from http://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2010/04/grcs-and-gerrymandering-the-roots-causes-of-problems-sylvia-lim/

Cloudy Skies, Floods Arise

mbs infinity pool 2

Singapore has been experiencing a spate of flash floods in the 2010s. From the 2011 Orchard Road flash flood to the one just a few days ago that blocked out the entire width of a major expressway, it is hard to miss the conspicuous increased frequency with which these floods are occurring in our island-nation. Whilst we are beginning to experience just a few of the many negative effects of flooding through these events, it would be worth our while to understand the root cause of these floods.

Firstly, to the hydrologically uninitiated, floods occur because of a variety of reasons. These may include natural reasons such as an increase in precipitation or human factors such as poor drainage in urban areas. Whatever the causative factor, what is certain is that, by definition, a flood occurs when the discharge of a river or channel (yes, this includes longkangs) is higher than bankfull discharge. The result is a channel that is unable to contain water that is flowing in it at a speed and quantity higher than it can handle.

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A Hydrograph depicts the discharge of a river over time after a storm event.

In some ways, floods seem an almost inevitable phenomenon for a country with such a high degree of urbanisation. It is no secret that the more urbanised an area, the more likely floods will occur.  The process brings with it 2 necessary evils – the disappearance of soil cover which promotes infiltration rather than overland flow which is a major flow that contributes to floods as well as the introduction of impervious urban surfaces such as concrete which reduces the time taken for rainfall to end up in a river in the first place. Moreover, to add salt to the wound, studies such as those by NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) have shown that the Urban Heat Island Effect results in urban areas experiencing higher precipitation than rural areas due to higher air temperatures which induce cloud formation and, hence, rain. Surely, in a country that is 100% urban, floods should be a major feature of our weather and climate? In reality, Singapore has been spared of the kind of flash floods that we last saw in the 1960s and ’70s. This can be attributed to the use of an extensive urban drainage network that spreads throughout our island, successfully preventing floods.

Today, the Government’s response to the floods has been to explore the feasibility of engineering in reducing flooding by expanding drainage systems to increase their capacity for water. While they have said that no amount of engineering can prevent floods in Singapore, there are plans already underway in various areas to improve and extend drainage systems. However, there are concerns that this may not suffice in the future.

Floods can be prevented. But high levels of precipitation cannot, for the most part. The Government has been on track in implementing a variety of flood management measures to improve prevention, prediction, preparedness and protection. However, not enough is being done because flash floods continue to occur.

The problem probably lies in the fact that the Government has made fundamental gaps in long-term planning. A key mistake the Government intends to make was outlined in the 2013 Land Use Plan To Support Singapore’s Future Population through the proposal to cut through a stretch of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve to accommodate the construction of the Cross-Island MRT Line by 2030. Regardless of whether this may be an overground or underground line, it seems plausible that such construction might put pressure on the nearby MacRitchie Reservoir to contain more overland flow, leading to localised flooding. Thankfully, in response to a report by the Nature Society (Singapore), the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has said that no final decision will be made until an Environmental Impact Assessment has been conducted. Even so, the prospect of even more underground MRT lines popping up in the future raises the question of their impact on the hydrology of Singapore.

Then there’s the question of anthropogenic climate change. Could it be that climate change can be blamed for bringing about unusually higher levels of precipitation in recent years? Why is it that we’ve been experiencing the kind of rainfall we usually receive in November – January (with the onset of the North East Monsoon), earlier? Frankly, at this point in time, it is difficult to substantiate such claims without any empirical data or further research to support them. But if this does indeed bear some truth at all, the Government should consider the possibility that climate change might just bring about higher-intensity or higher-frequency floods in the future when we least expect them to occur according to current weather patterns.

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Singapore’s tropical equatorial climate is characterised by high year-round rainfall. However, certain periods are wetter due to the effect of NE monsoon.

Hence, in the longer term, perhaps these flash floods remind us that Singapore might consider playing a larger role in combating climate change on an international platform while, in the shorter term, the floods remind us that we need to fine-tune our flood management strategies. Above all, they serve as a reminder that human action can have differential degrees of impact on Singapore’s hydrology over various scales of time.

References:

NASA. (2002, June 18). Nasa satellite confirms urban heat islands increase rainfall around cities. Retrieved from http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/view.php?id=22473

National Environment Agency (NEA). (2013, June 03). Local climatology – climate of singapore. Retrieved from http://app2.nea.gov.sg/weather-climate/climate-information

Neo, C. (2013, July 19). Nature society proposes alternative route for cross island line. Channel News Asia. Retrieved from http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/nature-society-proposes/749418.html

Public Utilities Board (PUB). (2013, June 03). Flood management strategies. Retrieved from http://www.pub.gov.sg/managingflashfloods/fms/Pages/default.aspx

Divide and Rule

AP

Technically speaking, my ethnolinguistic identity is a concoction of different ancestral roots for I am mostly Tamil and partially Telugu. Although it is with slight disappointment that I admit my incompetence in what may, for lack of a better linguistic term, be called my ‘minor’ Mother Tongue at all, it was with avid interest that I read about the fate of the Telugu-speaking state in India. Andhra Pradesh is a state of 84.6 million people in the south of India, east of the Deccan plateau, famous for being a hub of cultural activity and for religious tourism at its ancient temples. However, today, due to differences in political and economic prospects, the state is set to be split into 2 new states, albeit with great resistance due to legislative gridlock.

The ruling Congress Party and its coalition, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government, have heeded the call from a sizeable number of Andhra Pradesh politicians in both the national and state governments to kick-start the process of breaking up the 3 regions of Andhra Pradesh into 2 states – Telangana and Andhra. Proponents of the separation cite the fact that an unequal distribution of economic resources within Andhra Pradesh have resulted in unfavourable prospects for the Telangana region as compared to Coastal Andhra. Historically, Coastal Andhra was more prosperous primarily because of its thriving agricultural sector which benefited more from the Green Revolution than the other parts of the state, providing a further impetus for growth. Another point worth noting is that the Telangana region has a higher percentage of people constitutionally classified under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, explaining their unfair predisposition towards being stuck on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. Hence, the first noticeable trend in the economic geography of Andhra Pradesh is its widening income and development gaps between regions that differ in the nature of their main industrial activities as well as socio-economic demography.

However, what is so uniquely fascinating about the case of Andhra Pradesh is the fact that the state capital, Hyderabad, is located within the Telangana region itself. Shouldn’t the most developed city in the state bring about positive economic influence for the region in which it lies? After all, Hyderabad is India’s 4th largest credit centre, with 90% of the urban workforce employed in the service sector. It also boasts of a wide array of transnational corporations (TNCs) in the IT sector, including big names such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook, that have set up research and development (R&D) centres there. However, the concentration of economic resources and generation of revenue in Hyderabad has been successful to the extent that peripheral districts in the Telangana region have not reaped many benefits from their geographical proximity to the core of the state. Coastal Andhra, on the other hand, has received what many argue is more than its fair share of investment from the state government despite being located further away. Hence, the case of Andhra Pradesh reflects that there is a limitation to the notion that economic resources and money flow to regions that are spatially closer to the core as government intervention comes into play, channelling these resources elsewhere instead.

The geopolitical implications of such a major division in the map of India are multi-faceted. Those who support separation have adopted the argument that Telangana will be better institutionally suited to deal with its own development problems by having its own state legislature that can have its own say in resource distribution and economic restructuring. But will this really be the case even with the Congress Party proposing an unconventional policy to make Hyderabad the capital of both the new states for 10 years (during which the newly reconstituted Andhra state will have time to establish a new capital possibly in Visakhapatnam)? In any case, the division will certainly alter the urban dynamics in present-day Andhra Pradesh and perhaps even the way we perceive solutions to the problem of uneven regional development within a country.

For now, although the Government of India has decided not to introduce the planned legislation to initiate the separation during the upcoming (and rather aptly named) Monsoon Session of the Indian Parliament, there are plans to do so within the next 6 to 8 months. When the Government of India decides to invoke the States Reorganisation Act, together with the approval of the state and national legislatures against a backdrop of public protests and political resignations the world’s largest democracy will prove, once again, that demography is dynamic.

Map%20telangana

In any case, the division will certainly alter the urban dynamics in present-day Andhra Pradesh and perhaps even the way we perceive solutions to the problem of uneven regional development within a country.

References:

Joshi, S. (2013, August 01). Telangana bill not coming in monsoon session. The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/telangana-bill-not-coming-in-monsoon-session/article4978082.ece

Reddy, A., & Bantilan, M. (2013). Regional disparities in andhra pradesh, india. Local Economy, 28(1), 123-135. Retrieved from http://oar.icrisat.org/6224/7/reddy_Bantilan-26_11_11.pdf

Somewhere At The End Of A River

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In a way, a river’s estuary is its final definitive feature. It is a reflection of the past; its contents are a symbol of its erosive and depositional powers. Metaphorically speaking, I find myself at the end of a river – for I am a Hougang boy, and have been so for all my life.

Considering the etymology of ‘Hougang’ (which is Teochew for ‘river’s end’), I figuratively find myself at a river’s estuary because spending my most formative years in Hougang has certainly had an arguably noticeable impact on my perceptions and thoughts regarding certain issues.

Having fancied politicking for a good number of years now, life in Hougang not only involved being aware of municipal issues of the day but also the broader political significance of the area. In and by itself, Hougang is a geographically small area but due to the past actions of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) appointed by the Prime Minister, some residents have found themselves living in one constituency whilst others have found themselves living a completely different one. As of 2011, the area had been split up into at least 4 constituencies – Hougang SMC, Bedok Reservoir – Punggol (of Aljunied GRC), Ang Mo Kio – Hougang (of Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Punggol South (of Pasir Ris – Punggol GRC). The intention of such awkward delimitation has been famously attributed to gerrymandering. So when a PAP MP came knocking on my door one day asking if I had any concerns about lift upgrading in Punggol South, I felt like telling him that I did have a bone to pick with that issue not just in my constituency but all across Hougang as well. I felt that it was unfair that residents of Hougang Street 51 could enjoy priority in national residential development programmes set up by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) whilst my fellow Hougang residents just a few roads down were denied that because of whom they voted for in the political process.

Equally, I daresay constituents of Hougang SMC have developed a sense of patriotism as well as a political identity that are unique to their neck of the woods. For every General Election from 1991 to 2011, the electors there were branded as political kingmakers in deciding whether there would be any Opposition representation in Singapore’s legislature. On the one hand, the Opposition hailed the people of Hougang SMC as having a broader national duty  whilst on the other hand, the incumbent Government party told Hougang residents that they would have a special place in the hearts of policy planners if and only if the PAP candidate had been elected. With a spotlight as bright as that in such a small area (made brighter by the by-election of 2012), one can only expect the people of Hougang to have a distinct identity of their own as far as political preferences go.

Thus, the geography of place and space is rather intriguing. It is apparent in the differences between living in a younger area like Punggol 21 as opposed to an older one like Mountbatten or those between living in an area further away from the Central Business District (CBD) like Sembawang rather than a place within walking distance of it such as Tanglin-Cairnhill. Hence, the variation of Singaporeans’ spatial identity is due to many reasons such as differences in socioeconomic status of residents, the age of the estates as well as the amenities and infrastructure available. In the case of Hougang, it just so happens that this variation has manifested itself in a political nature.

In any case, however, it can be concluded that people are shaped by their surroundings. The link between urban zoning and psychological perceptions is perhaps something that warrants further research by those well-versed with the social sciences.

As for me, nostalgia hit when I had to shift from Hougang to Sengkang in early 2013, assuming that my childhood home would forever remain as a collection of mere memories somewhere in the inner recesses of my mind. Rather ironically, however, the recent election of the Workers’ Party (WP) candidate in the 2013 Punggol East by-election has meant that local affairs in my new neighbourhood will now be managed together with those in the WP stronghold of Hougang. And so, the delta has expanded and I yet again find myself in this estuary known as Hougang.

“Places matter. Their rules, their scale, their design include or exclude civil society, pedestrianism, equality, diversity (economic and otherwise), understanding of where water comes from and garbage goes, consumption or conservation. They map our lives.”
― Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics