Arcadis: Singapore ranks highest in Asia on new water index – but still faces water sustainability challenges

Singapore is ranked highest in Asia for the sustainability of its water systems and management, but falls behind Western cities in the inaugural Sustainable Cities Water Index from global design and consultancy firm Arcadis. The majority of Asian cities also face various challenges around water quality, efficiency and resiliency.

The index, developed by Arcadis in partnership with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), explores the three aspects that make up robust, effective and healthy waterscapes to develop an indicative ranking of 50 leading cities. The report finds that most cities, especially in Asia, need greater investment in their ability to withstand natural disasters and drinking water shortages, with climate adaptation and resiliency being the most pressing issues for future city leaders.

Singapore ranks No. 22 globally and does well with the elements over which it has control, such as leakage, treatment and metering. However, its location makes the city water-stressed, vulnerable to flood risk, lacking in reserves and dependent on foreign freshwater sources. On this front, Singapore has invested in projects such as the Marina Bay and subterrain caverns.

Under the leadership of PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, the country has become an innovator in many areas of water management. For example, it has overcome water shortages by changing negative public perceptions of potable water reuse. Nevertheless, Singapore still faces challenges with water stress, reserves and highly polluted pre-treatment source water, as urban runoff is exposed to many manmade sources of phosphorus and sediment.

Elsewhere in Asia, the majority of Asian cities studied face challenges in water sustainability, with nine out of twelve ranked in the bottom half of 50 cities. The four developing economy cities of Jakarta, Manila, Mumbai and New Delhi finish last in the overall ranking, struggling with quality and efficiency especially. Globally, Seoul and Tokyo rank at No. 23 and 25 respectively after Singapore. Despite challenges in the region, Tokyo stands out with the sixth best efficiency score despite the lack of wastewater reuse, reserve water and green space. Compared to the Asian cities, Sydney (No. 8) and Melbourne (No. 11) score well thanks to investment in efficient water systems and desalination creating better future water conditions.

John Batten, Global Director of Cities and Water, Arcadis, commented: “Great cities are defined and supported by the water around them. As water demand rises, aquifers are depleted and the threat of extreme weather becomes increasingly real. This means cities face the risk of being overburdened with too much water or stressed without enough. This report highlights areas of opportunity to inform decision-making around how they use and manage water. Cities which carefully and creatively use water assets and improve resiliency will ultimately be more liveable, safe and competitive.”

Eugene Seah, City Executive Director for Singapore, Arcadis, added: “The Singapore government has made significant improvements over the past few decades to become a regional water hub, as it recognises water as a new growth sector. We see the government adopting a ‘close the water loop’ strategy to maximize yield, committing to infrastructure that is designed to collect every drop of rainwater, utilising seawater and reusing endlessly. By optimising the water systems through Four National Taps and investments into water R&D, Singapore can look forward to an efficient and sustainable water supply that is resilient and caters to its economic growth.”