Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Great Singapore Floods

The last time the city was crippled by a flood was as recent as 7 months ago in November 2009. Then Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim said, “What happened was very unusual … The intensity was tremendous …”, and he called it a “freak” event which happens only “once in 50 years”. Taking their cue from the minister, the Public Utilities Board leisurely scheduled their plans to double the capacity of the main Bukit Timah Canal in 3rd quarter 2012. For yesterday's flash flood, the condominiums and commercial buildings in the flood prone area had to contend with new water level sensors that broadcasted their impending disaster slightly ahead of time. Cluny Court's management was supposed to be grateful that only one car was ruined when overflowing canal water poured into their basement carpark, again.

One Caucasian tourist was saying on TV last night that she never expected to see the waterlogged chaos that was Orchard Road "in a first world country". TODAY had a more political correct quote from visitor Educardo Gomez, "It's quite a sight - one that I never expected to see in Singapore - but these things happen, even in the most developed places". To support Mr Gomez, the broadsheet had a photo on page 30 of the flash flood devastation in France's Cote d'Azur region. For the record France does not have the world's highest paid cabinet ministers.

Also, the geographical region referenced is not as densely built up as Orchard Road. Ditto the Bukit Timah/Dunearn Road stretch, where you can't throw a stone without hitting a brand new condominium; it's easier to hit a Kim or a Lee in Korea. It's not rocket science that urban and developed areas have special vulnerability to flash floods - impervious surfaces. Impervious surfaces are man-made constructed surfaces like concrete shopping malls, high rise buildings, driveways, parking lots and sidewalks. These surfaces replace natural landscape and nature's means to absorb flood waters. These surfaces amplify the the velocity of flood waters because they rush over hard surfaces instead of seeping into the soil. You don't need to be paid a million dollars to understand that.

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