SINGAPORE – Flooded pavements across Singapore on Saturday (April 17) have raised the question: Going forward, can such events can be prevented altogether?

After all, Singapore has already spent $2 billion on drainage improvement works over the last decade, and plans to put in close to $1.4 billion more into such projects in the next five years.

Two key considerations might help in answering this question.

The first revolves around infrastructure and whether Singapore has done enough to prevent flash floods from happening.

The country has close to 8,000km of drains, rivers and canals, according to national water agency PUB’s website.

On top of that, PUB tries to mitigate flash floods by working with developers to ensure that there is adequate infrastructure in areas where rain falls and where flooding may occur.

Since January 2014, all new developments and redevelopments of 0.2 ha or more are required to implement solutions to slow down stormwater run-off from entering the public drainage system, through measures such as the installation of detention tanks.

Steps, ramps and flood barriers also help prevent floodwater from entering buildings or underground MRT stations.

Determining whether all of these measures are enough to prevent flash floods from happening again warrants consideration of the second issue: the cause of heavy rain.

Last Saturday’s deluge was brought about by the confluence of two weather phenomena.

The first was the development of a Sumatra squall, an organised line of thunderstorms that developed over Indonesia’s Sumatra island before sweeping eastwards over Singapore, said the Meteorological Service Singapore.

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The other was the influence of typhoon Surigae near the Philippines, which over the weekend racked up winds so strong, it was classified as a Category 5 storm – the strongest – by the United States Joint Typhoon Warning Centre.

Both of these events resulted in the heavy rain, and Singapore on Saturday experienced its highest April daily rainfall since 1980.

Politicians here have warned that with climate change, such intense bouts of rain will only become more frequent.

High water levels seen outside The Cascadia condominium in Bukit Timah on April 17, 2021. PHOTOS: ST READER

Science backs up this assertion.

“For each degree of warming, the air’s capacity for water vapor goes up by about seven per cent,” said the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions, a US-based non-profit organisation, on its website.

“An atmosphere with more moisture can produce more intense precipitation events,” it added.

Typhoons could also get stronger as global temperatures rise, because warmer sea surface temperatures fuel their formation.

PUB has said that it is working to tackle flooding threats to Singapore holistically, by studying how the country will be affected by the twin effects of more intense rainfall and sea level rise – the latter being another symptom of climate change.

To this end, the agency is working with the National University of Singapore and water management solutions provider Hydroinformatics Institute to develop a coastal-inland flood model.

Projections made under this model will enable PUB to carry out risk assessments and make plans to adapt to the changing climate.

But as Professor Benjamin Horton, director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore at the Nanyang Technological University pointed out during a climate change webinar hosted by The Straits Times on Wednesday, the root cause of climate change impacts is a warming world, and action needs to be taken to reduce heat-trapping emissions.

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He said: “If we don’t get at the root cause, adaptations are meaningless.”



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