A very good afternoon to all of you today. I am glad to join you on this joyous occasion, as we welcome our award recipients into our warm and loving MEWR family. They call this MEWR family, I call this an awesome family, as it means air, water and environment.
2. As we mark this occasion, I hope that all of you will remember to thank your families, everyone who has supported you in your journey, in your process of becoming successful in your career and guided you thus far. This is important, because similarly, without the foresight and careful planning by our pioneers, everyone who had made us successful, is worth our thanks. Therefore it is important to do well, and remember the work of our pioneers who cleaned up our rivers and streets and turned our water system into something we can drink.
3. But, this does not mean that our job is done. In fact, we are faced with complex challenges more than ever. Singapore is a low-lying island-state, we are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Those joining the MEWR family better believe this, because this is not just a story, it is science.The expected rise in sea levels poses the most immediate threat to Singapore. It means that come end of century, the forecast could be anything between 1-1.5m rise from what we normally see today. Most of our nation lies only 15m above the mean sea level. Temperatures will rise, and we can expect more frequent events of extreme weather. There will be less rain, and when the rain comes, it will fall furiously fast and we also will have prolonged dry spells and drought, that can affect the reliability of our scarce water supply. Sudden episodes of intense rainfall means that we will have lots of water we cannot keep, which flood our city.
4. As a small island, we have many challenges like these, and as we urbanise, it will become more difficult, and we have to balance our land uses carefully between different needs, such as defence, industry, housing, transport, and recreation, and water even. There is limited space to manage our growing amount of waste, and our only landfill at Semakau will run out of space by 2035 if we continue generating waste at the same rate.
5. What I have just shared are some of the challenges that we in MEWR family have to address. To respond to these environmental and water challenges, the government developed the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, which outlines our shared vision, including other concerned ministries, about making sure Singapore is a sustainable country. To achieve this, every officer in MEWR family has an important role to play in contributing meaningfully to the environment and water challenges.
6. Since 2008, 145 students, including yourselves, have been awarded the National Environment and Water Scholarship. Many of them have completed their studies and are now working amongst us. One of the engineers at PUB, Ming Hwang, is involved in the development of the third desalination plant in Tuas, and the expansion of the Kranji NEWater Factory. These are part of our investment in water infrastructure to cope with growing demand and to build up water resilience against the impact of climate change.
7. Another alumnus, Xin Min, has returned to join us since July 2015, after completing her degree in Environmental Engineering. She is working in the Waste Resource and Management department in NEA. Waste management and recycling are crucial in Singapore, as we move towards becoming a Zero Waste Nation.
8. Like the officers that I mentioned, you too will have the opportunity to be involved in interesting projects, some still being planned and have not been announced yet. Your roles will have an impact on Singaporeans. In the environment and water sector, things are always changing, and issues can arise suddenly. This means that we will always have to think on our feet, leverage on new technologies and explore innovative solutions to these challenges. As you embark on this next phase of life, it is pivotal that you understand the role you have to play as a NEW scholar. Take in as much knowledge as possible from your universities, the places you visit, and the people you meet. I look forward to the exciting ideas that you will bring back with you.
9. I hope you will always remember that, in the public service, it is our duty to serve our Singaporeans. Hence it is important to serve with a heart. When you return from your studies to join the MEWR Family, no matter which department you are placed in, it is necessary to stay connected to the ground, be empathetic and listen to the concerns and needs of the public, even as you carry out your duties diligently and objectively. It is challenging, but at the end of the day, you will find what we do in MEWR family a rewarding and enriching experience.
10. So, I wish you success in your journey ahead. When you come back, it will be a different Singapore, with interesting things to work with and I look forward to you joining us in a few years’ time, working alongside all of us and contributing to the MEWR family.
11. Thank you, and congratulations to all of you.