Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment celebrates 50th anniversary: 5 key efforts in building green and sustainable Singapore
Over the years, the Ministry’s role has evolved to address changing circumstances and varying emphases.
The Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) celebrated its 50th anniversary on Thursday (Sep 15) by planting 50 trees with its alumni and partners at Punggol Waterway Park.
First established in 1972 as the Ministry of the Environment (ENV), MSE has undergone multiple rebranding efforts as they address the country’s needs at different periods.
In September 2004, it was renamed the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) to indicate the Ministry’s significantly expanded role in managing Singapore’s water resources.
On Jul 27, 2020, MEWR became the MSE to reflect the Government’s emphasis on sustainability, as well as its plans to press on with major initiatives in carbon mitigation, coastal protection, zero waste and circular economy, food, and water security.
Here’s a look back at five decades of milestones, including the key moments to celebrate Singapore’s sustainability and environmental journey:
1977 – 1987: The Great Singapore River Clean-Up
Commenced in 1977, the 10-year project to clean up the Singapore River and the Kallang Basin involved the removal of rubbish from the rivers, discarding 80 boats clogging the rivers, dredging of the riverbeds and relocation of 4,000 squatters, hawkers and vegetable sellers.
The $170 million project also involved the removal of various sources of pollution, the provision of proper sewage infrastructure and new facilities for resettled residents and businesses, and the implementation of anti-pollution measures to minimise future pollution.
To the then Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew, cleaning up the rivers was not only about improving environmental health and supporting socio-economic development. It was also about water security, as Singapore was highly dependent on water imported from Malaysia. Having clean waterways that could function as water catchments would help to boost the local water supply.
The decade-long clean-up of Singapore River was completed on Sep 2, 1987. It involved various departments and agencies under the ENV, Ministry of Law (MinLaw), Ministry of National Development (MND), Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), and the then Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA).
1982: Singapore Declared Malaria-Free
Singapore was once rampant with malaria cases – the most threatening vector-borne disease in the early 20th Century. Outbreaks in mainland Singapore and off-shore islands of Singapore were reported from the 1960s to 1970s.
Thankfully, with stringent regulations, tough enforcement and modernisation, Singapore was declared malaria-free on Nov 22, 1982 by the World Health Organisation, the first country in South-east Asia to attain this status.
1986: Completion of Street Hawker Resettlement
From 1968 to 1986, the Government licensed and resettled 18,000 street hawkers into purpose-built hawker centres and markets with proper sanitation and amenities.
By February 1986, the resettlement work was completed. The effort cost more than $36 million.
Since then, our hawker centres have come a long way, with hawker culture in Singapore attaining UNESCO status on Dec 16, 2020.
It was successfully inscribed as Singapore’s first element on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, with the unanimous support of the Intergovernmental Committee for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage.
The resettlement was also captured in Jack Neo’s Long Long Time Ago films.
1987: Night Soil Bucket System Phased Out
On Jan 24, 1987, Singapore bid goodbye to the century-old night soil bucket system. That day, the last night soil collection centre, located at Lorong Halus, ceased operation for good, as Singapore entered a new era served by a modern sanitation system.
The project started in 1984. Over three years, 15,369 buckets were phased out as the Ministry installed modern sanitation.
By 1997, all of Singapore had access to modern sanitation. In comparison, just 32 years ago when Singapore became independent in 1965, only 45 per cent of the population had access to proper sanitation.
1999: Groundbreaking Semakau Landfill
The amount of trash generated daily in Singapore soared from 1,600 tonnes in 1972 to 3,200 tonnes in 1982.
With space running out at Singapore’s last inland dumping ground at Lorong Halus, Singapore’s first offshore landfill – Semakau Landfill – began operations on Apr 1, 1999.
The 3.5sq km island is also home to a thriving biodiversity and the waters around it support some of Singapore’s richest coral reefs.
It was even referred to by New Scientist magazine as the ‘Garden of Eden’.
As the Ministry celebrates its Golden Jubilee, it will organise a series of meaningful activities, including a short film showcase, the launch of a commemorative stamp set and a social media campaign.