Orchard Rd floods: Once in 50 years after spending $2b?


After spending billions to prevent floods – floods again in Orchard road? 

I refer to the article “Flash flood in Orchard Road, PUB issues high flood risk alerts in central region” (Straits Times, May 26).

It states that “A flash flood occurred at Kramat Lane in Orchard Road on Saturday (May 26).

Both lanes were affected, water agency PUB said in a tweet at 3.45pm, advising people to avoid the area.

Photos posted on Facebook show vehicles in deep murky water which came up to mid-wheel level.

In this connection, perhaps it may be interesting to revisit the “Orchard road floods” eight years ago – according to theonlinecitizen (Jun 21, 2010) – “I think the response by the PUB, by the agencies, has been commendable,” the Minister for Environment and Water Resources said on 20 June with regards to the flood at Orchard Road. “We have done our best to help the businesses affected, the people affected.”

So, after all that has happened, the PUB is to be commended?

Some of the losses may not be covered, or fully covered by insurance, and in a sense, every Singaporean may have to pay for it, as insurance premiums are likely to increase, leading to increased business costs, and possibly consumer prices.

In another Straits Times’ report, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) was asked “why there were no debris traps already installed in a known flood-prone area.” The PUB spokesman said the existing canal had been “serving us very well”.

So, we have spent more than two billion dollars to prevent floods, only to have the system fail, because a drain got choked, and the reason for not installing debris traps was because the system had been “serving us very well”?

This may become the mother of all examples, whenever we talk about complacency in Singapore!

On 18 June, experts criticised the PUB for outsourcing critical maintenance work. They also questioned its plans to install more sensors, among other things.

Why is there no response from the PUB to these criticisms and questions?

Why didn’t PUB make the plans or take any of the actions that it says it will take now in the immediate and long term, after last November’s (2009) floods at Bukit Timah?

What is perhaps glaringly missing, which no media reports have talked about, is that not a single person has so far said the word “sorry” for Singapore’s worse flooding in 26 years.

All we have been getting are all kinds of reasons as to why the system failed.  Could it be that the system failed because the humans overseeing it were/are incompetent?

The PUB was reported to have also said: “During the downpour on June 16, one of the hotspots PUB was monitoring closely was the Bukit Timah area, which experienced massive flooding in November last year.

Lets not forget that on 16 June, Bukit Timah was also one of the areas which were flooded, despite the PUB “monitoring [it] closely”.

It seems that while keeping its eyes on Bukit Timah, the PUB was “caught off guard” by the situation in Orchard and it did not “realize there were problems at Stamford Canal.” And because of the deluge, the PUB then declared Orchard Road “a new flood hotspot.”

So, lets get this clear: The hotspot that PUB was not monitoring closely (Orchard) was flooded, and the hotspot that it was closely monitoring (Bukit Timah) was also flooded?

Don’t monitor – flood; monitor also flood?

Finally, we had spent an additional $226 million on the Marina Barrage project, which “was touted as being able to relieve flash floods.” So, it didn’t work? Why? I’m sure many Singaporeans like myself are awaiting with much anticipation for the reasons why the Bukit Timah and the Veerasamy Road areas were also flooded on the same day as Orchard Road.

Perhaps they too were caused by “choked drains”?

Or maybe it’s just another “freak event” which happens once in 50 years?”

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.