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Parliament Q&As
Statements by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, and Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, Committee of Supply Debate, 4 Mar 2011


Date Published: 04 Mar 2011

THEME 2: PROTECTING AND ENHANCING OUR ENVIRONMENT

55.          A second key thrust is to protect and enhance our environment. Our economy, society and environment are closely linked. Fresh air, clean streets, and liveable spaces are desired features in prosperous and vibrant communities.

 

Achieving better air quality
(Minister Yaacob Ibrahim)

56.          Mr Maliki asked about our efforts to ensure high air quality standards.

57.          On balance, Singapore maintained relatively high standards in 2010, achieving a Pollutant Standards Index rating of 'Good' for 93% of the year. However, we experienced a few days of moderate air quality last year due to haze from forest fires in the region.

58.          We are continuing our close collaboration with our regional partners on trans-boundary haze. Singapore is chair of the Sub-regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Trans-boundary Haze Pollution from 2010 to 2012. During our term, we will strengthen the bilateral programmes conducted by Malaysia and Singapore in Riau and Jambi respectively. New regional initiatives will also be undertaken, such as the establishment of a Regional Haze Training Network for sharing of expertise and training in haze management, and enhancing the capabilities of the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre hosted by NEA that tracks the hot spots in the region.

59.          In addition to monitoring the haze situation, our capabilities in climate science and modelling will be built up, to better understand regional and local climatic patterns and predict future climate changes. We are partnering the Hadley Centre of UK, a leader in climate science, to undertake climate change studies, co-develop regional climate models, and build up our expertise in climate science.

60.          Mr Maliki also asked about our efforts to curb domestic emissions. NEA plans to progressively lower Fine Particulate Matter or PM2.5 levels, which can cause and aggravate respiratory ailments. We aim to reduce PM2.5 levels to 12µg/m3 by 2020. To do so, we will need to keep vehicular emissions in check.

61.          Diesel vehicles have been on the Euro IV standard since 2006. We will adopt Euro V standards for new diesel vehicles by 2014. Besides reducing PM2.5 levels, this will also reduce other pollutants such as NO2 and ozone. Off-road diesel engines such as cranes, excavators and generator sets are another source of PM2.5, and we will be implementing tighter emission standards for such engines from July 2012.

 

Curbing Dengue Incidence
(Minister of State Amy Khor)

62.          We are continuing with efforts to protect our community from the risk of vector-borne diseases through research, surveillance, outreach and enforcement.

63.          Mr Low Thia Khiang asked about the dengue situation. Historically, there has been a rising trend for dengue since the early 1990s, but we have managed to buck this trend after 2005. Despite an overall deterioration in the global dengue situation in 2010, we had about 5,000 dengue cases in Singapore, which although higher than 2009, was significantly lower than the 7-8,000 cases in 2007 and 2008.

64.          There is currently no approved vaccine for dengue available on the market, though research is ongoing. As a dengue vaccine is unlikely to be available in the immediate future, we need to take other innovative and practical measures against dengue. Over the past five years, we have been investing in research at NEA's Environmental Health Institute or EHI, and developed rapid testing methods to shorten the time needed to diagnose dengue cases and provide early warning of outbreaks.

65.          I am pleased to inform the House that the World Health Organization has recently designated the EHI to be a Collaborating Centre in the research of Arbovirus and their associated vectors, such as the dengue virus. EHI will work with the World Health Organization to strengthen disease surveillance and outbreak response capability in the region. These will eventually help to reduce the disease burden in the region, including Singapore.

66.          On a note of precaution, this year, we are closely monitoring and preparing for the possibility of an increase in dengue cases in the event of a switch in the predominant dengue virus serotype . Historically, such switches can occur every 2-3 years, and result in a significant increase in dengue cases because of the lack of immunity in the population. Dengue-2 has been the predominant serotype circulating over the past 4 years, so there is a possibility of a serotype switch soon.

67.          I urge everyone to continue to be vigilant in preventing mosquito breeding so that our dengue incidence can be kept under control. NEA will continue with its pre-emptive surveillance and conduct Intensive Source Reduction Exercises.

 

Maintaining high standards of public cleanliness
(Minister of State Amy Khor)

68.          Sustaining high standards of public cleanliness can also help reduce potential mosquito breeding sites, and ensure a clean and liveable environment for the public to enjoy.

69.          Mr Lim Biow Chuan asked how NEA ensures high standards of public cleansing. Similar to Town Councils' cleansing frequency of HDB housing estates, NEA has in place a regime to clean our roads and private estates at least 2 to 3 times a week. NEA also works with PUB to ensure drains are cleaned regularly. Contractors are required to perform additional cleaning for areas with higher human traffic or litter prone areas. Much of the cleaning work is currently outsourced, and NEA deploys officers to carry out daily audits on the contractors' performance, penalizing errant contractors if lapses are found.

70.          As Mr Ang Mong Seng has highlighted, the persistence of littering in housing estates, especially high-rise littering, remains an ongoing challenge. My Ministry is studying possible solutions, such as exploring greater use of surveillance technology to facilitate enforcement against perpetrators, but this is not always practical. Encouraging greater community ownership and civic responsibility remains the dominant approach in curbing the irresponsible and dangerous behaviour of high-rise littering.

71.          The new Anti-Littering Campaign which was launched in June last year was geared towards promoting personal ownership for public cleanliness and good social behaviour. It integrates increased visibility of enforcement as a deterrence, with improved location and frequency of emptying litter bins, as well as more targeted public outreach and education efforts.

72.          The new Litter-Free Ambassadors programme was introduced to empower members of the community to reduce the incidence of littering. Over 2,000 grassroots, youth and students have been recruited as Ambassadors to conduct educational outreach activities, patrol community spaces and act as positive role models to discourage littering in their neighbourhoods, and we appreciate their efforts and leadership.

73.          The Public Hygiene Council was also formed in November 2010 to encourage greater partnership in support of public hygiene. The Council, comprising representatives from the People, Private and Public sectors, aims to roll out its initiatives progressively later this year, focusing on issues such as anti-littering, clean public toilets and good personal hygiene.

74.          There was a close to 50% drop in the number of littering offenders caught in the six months immediately after the Campaign was launched, when compared with the same period of 2009. The number of Corrective Work Orders imposed has also fallen by 13%. However, more work still needs to be done to shape our anti-littering attitude and behaviour.

75.          Mr Ang mentioned Singapore's ranking on the Yale Environmental Performance Index. I would like to clarify that the Index does not include cleanliness as a component. An inaugural litter count survey was conducted last year covering some 1,900 sites in different categories of public places across Singapore. It was found that on average, 33 pieces of litter were accumulated over a 12-hour period in an area of just 100 square metres, the size of a typical 4-room flat. The study points to the need to continue with stronger engagement efforts with schools and communities to improve shared ownership in the cleanliness of the public spaces that we want to enjoy.

 

Ensuring high food hygiene standards
(Minister of State Amy Khor)

76.          Mr Liang Eng Hwa raised the issue of food hygiene. This is a concern, given the increasing number and diversity of retail food outlets. We have continued to strengthen the regulation of our food hygiene standards, focusing on food handlers, as they are an important link in the food safety chain. Since October last year, NEA has progressively rolled out the requirement for food handlers to undergo refresher training every three years. Stiffer penalties were also introduced in April last year for food hygiene-related offences.

77.          Catered food is an area of emphasis. As caterers typically serve meals to large numbers of people, any lapses in their food handling processes could potentially result in mass food poisoning.

78.          We will focus on educating both food caterers and consumers on good practices for preparing and consuming catered food.

79.          From the end of this year, food caterers will be required to time-stamp their packet meals and put up advisory notices at buffet meals to inform consumers when food should be consumed by. Studies have shown that food may not be safe for consumption beyond 4 hours from the time it has been cooked, if not properly stored or held at an appropriate temperature. Consumers therefore need to be careful with food that has exceeded the consume-by time stipulated by the caterer.

80.          Dengue control, public cleanliness and food hygiene are all areas which require the support of the community. We can all do our part to continue ensuring that the areas in and around our homes do not become potential mosquito breeding grounds, and also help maintain a high standard of public cleanliness in all our common areas. As consumers, we can set the expectation for food handlers to be more hygiene conscious.

 

Managing hawker centres
(Minister Yaacob Ibrahim)

81.          Mr Lim Biow Chuan asked about the government's hawker stall policy. We recognise that over time, hawker centres have evolved to become not just a source of affordable food, but also an important shared community space. About 42% of the nearly 15,000 cooked food and market stalls that NEA manages are paying subsidised rentals. This has helped to keep food prices affordable, although there are several other factors that may affect food prices. There are no immediate plans to build new hawker centres, but we will continue to ensure that hawker centres provide patrons with a comfortable dining environment through our Hawker Centre Upgrading Program. Since 2001, over 80% of our 110 hawker centres have been upgraded, with improvements made in ventilation, utilities and layout.

82.          Mr Lim also asked about allocating stalls at subsidised rent to low-income individuals, while Mr Chiam See Tong asked about NEA's approach to illegal hawking by the handicapped. There are currently various schemes to support families in hardship and persons with disabilities. Low-income families who need assistance with basic living can approach the Community Development Councils for help. Persons with disabilities can be referred to the various job placement or support services for employment opportunities.

 

Minimising noise
(Minister Yaacob Ibrahim)

83.          Mr Liang Eng Hwa asked what the government is doing to minimise noise nuisance. As I shared at last year's COS, construction sites near to residential and noise sensitive areas that started work from 1 September 2010 have not been allowed to carry out construction activities from 10pm on the night before Sunday or public holiday till 10 am the day itself. This prohibition will be extended to cover the rest of the day for construction sites that commence work from September 2011. Going forward, we will also consider tighter noise limits for construction equipment and methods.

84.          NEA is also taking steps to reduce traffic noise. Noise standards for new vehicles were tightened in October last year, and standards for existing vehicles will be tightened in April this year. NEA is also working with LTA to look into the feasibility of measures to further manage traffic noise.

85.          I share Mr Maliki's concern that community noise is a growing challenge. However, stepping up on legislation and enforcement is not necessarily the most practical approach in such instances. While NEA has established and enforced noise limits for noise sources such as construction sites, factories and motor vehicles which could pose a risk to public health, community noise cannot be addressed as easily. This is because of its transient and subjective nature.

86.          As we work, live and play in a compact city, greater civic mindedness is very important. This is especially so given our high population and urban density which amplify the impact of noise. Even as we review noise mitigation measures through improved infrastructure design and more effective enforcement, for a better quality of life for all everyone in society needs to continue exercising consideration and tolerance for one another.

 

Community Engagement
(Minister Yaacob Ibrahim)

87.          The challenge of realizing our vision of a sustainable Singapore is as much one of partnership and personal responsibility, as it is of public policy. To build a future that we desire and that our children deserve, we need to embrace the idea that taking care of the environment is everyone's shared responsibility, not just the government's. In doing so, we will also play our part as a responsible global citizen to tackle climate change, as suggested by Mr Seah Kian Peng.

88.          Mr Seah also asked if we can make it mandatory for major national events to be carbon neutral going forward. Given their high visibility, major national events provide a good opportunity for us to promote environmental protection and ownership. NEA has been engaging the organisers and stakeholders of major events to make their events environmentally-friendly.

89.          These include introducing measures to cut down on packaging and litter, providing adequate recycling bins, using energy efficient lighting and encouraging participants to use public transport. These will help reduce the carbon footprint of such large scale events.

90.          NEA has also worked with the organisers of the Youth Olympic Games, National Day Parade, River Hongbao and Chingay to encourage participants and visitors to keep the venues litter-free through the provision of adequate refuse bins, display of educational materials and public announcements at the event sites.

91.          Beyond using national events as platforms to build up a stronger sense of community ownership and responsibility, our officers at the five Regional Offices island-wide have engaged the grassroots through CCC meetings and grassroots events to better understand and address the community's concerns. A $1.5mil 3P Partnership Fund is also available to support 3P efforts by grassroots, schools, NGOs and companies. My ministry will continue to grow our networks of teachers, youth, grassroots and corporate partners, to champion the environment in their respective communities and organisations.

92.          Such community partnership has been a centrepiece of our water sustainability efforts. The Active, Beautiful, and Clean, or "ABC", Waters Programme was launched in 2006 to encourage the public to get closer to water so that they can better value and enjoy this precious resource.

93.          To address Mr Heng Chee How's query on the status of the ABC Waters Program, I am pleased to share that 15 projects have been completed, and these have been very well received by the community.

94.          2011 promises an equally exciting array of projects for the community. The flagship project this year is the Kallang River - Bishan Park project where the river will become the focus of the park following its transformation into a natural meandering waterway. The project also features innovative bio-engineering techniques and natural cleansing systems using plants. At MacRitchie Reservoir, amongst other improvements, visitors can expect a new submerged boardwalk that will allow people to walk through shallow waters and appreciate water from a different perspective. These projects are part of more than 100 identified island-wide under the ABC Waters Masterplan, including Sungei Whampoa, which will be implemented in phases over the next 20 years.

95.          PUB is also working closely with other public and private agencies to encourage the adoption of ABC waters design features within their developments. ABC Waters design features have been introduced in public housing projects such as Punggol Waterway and private developments like the Tree House Condominium by CDL.

 

Concluding Remarks
(Minister Yaacob Ibrahim)

96.          Water we can drink from the tap, reservoirs we can canoe in, vibrant hawker centres, clean streets, fresh air - these are for us to use, but not to be taken for granted. We have to nurture a clean and liveable home for everyone through the combined efforts of all. Our efforts are recognised internationally today, with Singapore ranked first out of 151 countries in Gallup's 2010 Air and Water Survey and maintaining its top placing amongst Asian cities in Mercer's Quality of Living Survey for the past three years.

97.          In conclusion, doing our part in safeguarding the environment does not have to be an extra-ordinary event or activity. Simple everyday actions can protect the environment. Adopting energy and water efficient devices at home can help extend the lifespan of our resources. Everything we buy or throw away has some impact on the environment because it requires energy, water and resources to produce or dispose. Reducing our food waste, avoiding excess packaging and recycling are all easy ways that take us one step closer to our vision of a sustainable and liveable Singapore.

98.          We can create an even better environment through positive changes in the way we think and act. Together, we can safeguard our environment for the present and for future generations to come.



    

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