Pulau Ubin Stories

Stories, old and new, about Pulau Ubin, Singapore

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Water - all the way from Singapore?

This is the first in a series of newspaper articles courtesy of a Ubin resident who has collected and archived them over the last 15 years. Thanks to Ria Tan for providing the contact.

The caption reads: "Thank you, thank you: Madam Lim watching SCDF recruit C C Low pouring water into a countainer outside her kitchen." Photo by David Tan, The New Paper

Water - all the way from S'pore?
Friday, October 10, 1997
Yvonne Lim
The New Paper
Image of the actual article [1MB]

She had lived most of her 87 years without electricity. For years, without company. And for the past two months, without her own water supply. Madam Lim Chin Ching's well dried up two months ago in a drought that has hit most of Pulau Ubin's 200 wells. Alone in her remote, crumbling wood-and-zinc hut, the tough widow has been relying on a friendly visitor in blue for her water.

Yesterday afternoon, a Police Coast Guard land-rover pulled up outside her hut. Out jumped Sergeant Tan Tiam Hock, shouting cheerfully in Hokkien: "Wa nang gia zui lai leow! (We've brought the water)." As two Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) recruits lugged out four jerry cans of water, Madam Lim clasped her hands and gushed: "Gam sia, gam sia (thank you)." Every week, for two months, Sgt Tan has been bringing Madam Lim water from other wells on the island - enough for a week's drinking and cooking. But yesterday, there was a new tang to the water. All 80 litres of it was from mainland Singapore - part of the 50,000 litres shipped over to relieve the island's water shortage.

When Sgt Tan told Madam Lim this, her eyes grew big.
"All the way from Singapore?" she exclaimed.

Since Madam Lim came from China 40 years ago to settle on Pulau Ubin with her husband, she has tasted only the island's well water and rain water. To catch the rain that fell yesterday, Madam Lim laid out rows of pots, pails, bowls, even jam jars.

She could not make it to the collection point yesterday, as her home is a 20-minutes drive through mud tracks and hilly roads. She has been using a neighbour's well water to wash her clothes. But she doesn't dare take too much, and she cannot walk far to find other sources of water, she said in Teochew. "I try to save water, like when I wash rice, because I am an old woman - I cannot carry too much water."

She has lived on welfare aid since her husband died years ago. Her only daughter is in China. Why didn't she move to an easier life on the mainland? Said Madam Lim: "Oh, if I had the chance I would go. Life is difficult here." However, residents later said she had been offered a place in a welfare home last year - but she came back home in the end.

They came with used oil drums, jerry cans, pails, bins and bottles - on trolleys, lorries and motorbikes. Pulau Ubin residents yesterday carted away some 8,000 litres of water. The water was shipped over by the SAF and SCDF on Wednesday. Coupons were issued to 40 of the island's 170 households, allowing each person 40 litres per day - about 3.5 pails.

The water distribution began at 3pm, presided over by Community Development Minister Abdullah Tarmugi. For three elderly residents, who lived far away, water was delivered to the doorstep. The water operation and yesterday's drizzle broke the dry spell - but not the islanders' thriftiness. Retiree Low Hai Chua, 82, said: "I will drink this water - and bathe in the sea."

Source: The Straits Times

On the right is an image of a tanker transporting water to Pulau Ubin in 1997 from the Straits Times courtesy of a student website on the 1997 El Nino event that impacted the world.

The trade winds, which normally blew from Asia to South America across the Pacific, reversed due to the El Nino, causing a large body of warm ocean water to flow from the coasts of Asia across the Pacific to the coasts of South America. Therefore, rain clouds formed above South America instead of above Southeast Asia and Australia, causing a drought over Southeast Asia and the Oceania, bringing higher than usual temperatures.

The website explains the phenomenon and its impact on Singapore:

"The droughts caused a village on the island of Pulau Ubin off the northeastern coast of Singapore to run out of water after a dry spell of 5 months. The Singapore Armed Forces and Singapore Civil Defence Force to transport more than 50 tonnes of water to the island to ease the water shortage.

The main island of Singapore itself also suffered from water shortage. The water stock of Singapore fell to just 73% after months of El Nino induced droughts."

Below is a list of cited bibliography from the El Nino Website relevant to Ubin.

  • Teo, G. (1997) "Fresh water bound for Pulau Ubin today" The Straits Times, October 8, 1997
  • Gascon, G. (1997) "Launching to Ubin's aid" The Straits Times, October 9, 1997
  • Yeo, G. (1997) "Water tankers spell relief for Pulau Ubin" The Straits Times, October 9, 1997

  • Lim, Y. (1997) "Water - all the way from Singapore?" The New Paper, 10 October 1997
  • Tan, J. and Tangen, H. (1998) "El Nino Around the World" Website available at: http://library.thinkquest.org/17865/


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