By Jessica Cheam and Jean Chua
Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy in helping the country achieve water sustainability is embodied in one of the water industry’s most treasured awards, the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize.
Four decades ago, Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew – arguably Asia’s most well-known statesman – issued a challenge to the country’s engineers. “Suppose we could capture every drop of rain in Singapore, could we become self-sufficient?” Lee asked of the country’s national water agency PUB.
It was a tall order, for Singapore was but a tiny island with no natural resources or abundant water supply to boast of. But today, that it has overcome all odds to achieve not only a sustainable water supply but also carve a global reputation as an innovative water leader is thanks to Lee’s vision and determination to solve the country’s water challenges.
It is this spirit of ingenuity which is embodied in the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize, an award established in 2008 by Singapore which has grown in stature over the years to become one of the water industry’s most treasured accolades.
Named after Lee, and as a tribute to his leadership in charting Singapore’s journey towards water sustainability, the Prize was set up to honour contributions by individuals or organisations that have solved the world’s water challenges by applying innovative technologies, policies or programmes.
It was created as the key highlight of the Singapore International Water Week, an event envisaged by the city’s government as an international gathering of the water industry’s biggest names, and where the most cutting-edge solutions, ideas and technologies are showcased.
At the time, the city’s leaders were seeking to internationalise Singapore’s growing water industry and position it as a global hydrohub. SIWW was crafted as the perfect platform to serve this need and of the rapidly growing water markets in Asia Pacific and the Middle East.
In typical Singapore efficiency, the process of getting SIWW and the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize from drawing board to reality took a short 18 months, with a dedicated team of government officials and private sector partners working behind the scenes.
Today, the event and the Water Prize are permanent fixtures on the global water circuit that attracts the best and brightest in the industry.
The pioneering spirit
Indeed, the government’s work under Lee’s leadership over the decades in ensuring a sustainable water supply for future citizens has created a billion-dollar industry from scratch which is world-leading and comprises companies involved in all aspects of the water value chain, from research, planning, design to manufacturing.
This pioneering spirit is encapsulated in the Water Prize, whose winners are selected by a high-level panel of global experts based on their success in applying ground-breaking technologies that have led to significant benefits for humanity.
Its honour roll includes laureates that have designed solutions in membrane technology, used water treatment, as well as holistic water policies and management that have proven to be game-changers and helped improve the lives of millions.
The winner of the inaugural prize in 2008, Canadian scientist and entrepreneur Andrew Benedek, won for giving millions of people clean drinking water after he pioneered the development of low-pressure membranes in water treatment.
With his membrane technology, good quality drinking water can now be produced almost anywhere in the world; the technology can be used in huge treatment facilities as well as small portable water treatment systems for rural communities to treat water affordably.
Utilities in the United States, Europe, Japan, Australia, China, Singapore and several other countries in the Middle East and South America have incorporated the use of his membranes in their water treatment processes.
Other winners of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize are Professor Gatze Lettinga (2009), Yellow River Conservancy Commission (2010), Dr James Barnard (2011), Professor Mark van Loosdrecht (2012) and the Orange County Water District (2014).
Chairman of PUB, Tan Gee Paw, notes that the prize “goes beyond commemorating what Singapore has achieved as a nation, but celebrates what the global community has achieved working together to bring about innovative solutions to the water issue”.
“This prize has taken on special significance and meaning after Mr Lee’s recent passing and will be a testament to his enduring legacy as the architect of Singapore’s water story,” Tan adds. – Eco-Business Newsletter
By Jessica Cheam and Jean Chua