Remembering Lee Kuan Yew in Our Rivers

jade seah

Been feeling very moody and mournful of late, so went for a run along the Kallang/Geylang River this morning, in time to catch this beautiful sunrise. Natural wonders and a spot of physical exertion always have a positive effect on me, and this was no different. It made me introspective and nostalgic, in a good way. I thought about how I used to wakeboard in these waters when I was in the Singapore Management University (SMU) & how I participated in several wakeboarding competitions. Held at the Kallang Riverside Park, my folks came to several of these competitions to support me & I remember them telling me about how filthy the rivers in Singapore were not that long ago.

The thought seems almost unfathomable as wakeboarders, canoeists, dragon-boaters & recreational fishermen share & enjoy the waters today.

I have read some accounts & articles (complete with pictures) on how the river was back in the day. (You can see a colourful and easily-read report on the project by the Public Utilities Board (PUB) here.)

The waters were literally dark with filth, while dead animals, human waste & other rubbish floated about. According to the accounts, the stench was at times unbearable.

Jade Seah

It then took a visionary to make change happen.

“It should be a way of life to keep the water clean, to keep every stream, every culvert, every rivulet, free from unnecessary pollution. In ten years let us have fishing in the Singapore River and fishing in the Kallang River. It can be done.” – Lee Kuan Yew (1977)

Our then-Prime Minister was well ahead of his time. As part of his strategy for sustainable development in Singapore, he called for the clean-up of its several grossly polluted river systems. In 1977, he gave relevant government departments ten years to complete the project. I am proud to say, that true to Singapore style, the strategy to clean-up Singapore’s rivers was implemented within this time frame

“Only ten years ago our rivers were like sewers, smelly, dirty and devoid of fish or any aquatic life. This year marks the restoration of the Singapore, Rochor, Geylang and Kallang Rivers into clean watercourses. …… We now have pleasant riverscapes. We can walk along the river banks and fish or boat, all unthinkable only a few years ago. It is an achievement many societies dream of, but one only few achieved.” – Lee Kuan Yew (1987)

Today, I enjoyed a scenic run along the sparkling waters of the river, on a proper path lined with plants and colourful flowers. I saw fish & even caught sight of a water snake in the waters. I saw older folk practicing taichi on the banks; people walking their pets; children running about; saw dragonboaters and canoeists…basically Singaporeans, and foreign friends alike coming together, enjoying our little slice of nature in our urban neighbourhood.

Thank you, Sir, for your vision and detailed execution; for turning us from a third to a first world nation in less than a generation, and for making a Singapore I am so proud of.

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