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  Today Online 17 Jan 07
'Talks of water wars absolute rubbish'
Water wars a far reality but Singapore's success story in water management holds lessons for the world
Clement Mesenas Editor-At-Large clement@mediacorp.com.sg

THE world's movers and shakers have long debated the likely catastrophic effects of a global crisis triggered by a water shortage. It was even the premise of a television documentary The Water Wars.

But at least one international scholar says such a scenario is highly unlikely. "Talks of water wars are absolute rubbish. If there will be war between two countries, the 15th reason could be water, but not the first fourteen," Professor Asit Biswas (picture) told an audience of top government officials, academics and water management experts gathered at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Prof Biswas, who heads a think tank in Mexico, the Third World Centre for Water Management, argued that any impending water shortage would be the result of poor water management, not climate change.

"The United Nations, the World Bank, their officials were sold on the idea that climate change was the topic they wanted to discuss at world forums," he said yesterday during his lecture on the future of water.

His thesis struck fertile ground some 18 months ago when he discovered that Singapore had been practising for 40 years what he had been preaching round the world, often to deaf ears.

Taking up the story, Public Utilities Board (PUB) chief executive Khoo Teng Chye, said the local water agency provided Prof Biswas with local facts and figures. "We were flattered when he came up with a report that highlighted Singapore's successful water management," he said. Prof Biswas' report has since been read around the world.

Prof Biswas, who was awarded the Stockholm Water Prize last year, the Nobel Prize's equivalent in water management, said that the Singapore success story, especially in its wastewater treatment, could be adapted and implemented elsewhere. Saudi Arabia is already studying the Singapore model.

With the global water business estimated to be worth about US$500 billion ($765 billion), the stakes are high.

"Singapore has what it takes to be the water hub of the world, and with the capacity to attract all the right people to develop into the world's intellectual capital for water management," said Prof Biswas.

PUB's Mr Khoo said Singapore is already forging ahead in research and development in the field of water management--two universities are setting up water research institutes and several international water companies have set up office here. A Water Week is also planned for the middle of next year.

Prof Tommy Koh, who chaired the lecture, said the PUB, the Asian Development Bank and the Japan Water Forum have also joined hands to set up an Asian-Pacific Water Forum and stage a Water Summit at the end of the year.

"My goal during the last lap of my service to the public is to ensure that every Asian will have access to clean water," said Prof Koh, the chairman of the Forum's governing council.

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