This move turned out to be absolutely right. On August 9, 1965, when Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew declared its independence, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdul Rahmat announced that he could turn off Singapore’s water supply at any time if he didn’t like its policies. Lee regarded this as an incentive rather than as a threat. As early as 1971, the newly created Public Utilities Board (PUB) drafted the first meticulously detailed plan for safeguarding the city’s supply of drinking water. Three years later, the engineers at the PUB tried to build a desalination system. The only reason why the project failed is that back then the world still had no affordable technology for this process.
The engineers then decided to channel the water that Singapore has in abundance: tropical rainfall. Singapore has an average annual precipitation volume of 2,500 millimeters—150 percent more than London. Wastewater pipes were now laid in all residential areas, along the main traffic arteries, and even along the edges of the few remaining virgin forests. As a result, Singapore was no longer prone to the devastating floods that follow monsoon rains and are typical of the tropics. In other major cities in Southeast Asia, such floods are still a recurring problem. The rainwater collected by the pipes now flowed into gigantic retention basins and reservoirs. Today Singapore has 17 of these artificial lakes, which serve as the centers of local recreation areas.