Swachh Bharat Mission a deeper reform to transform how we think, live & work: Lee Hsien Loong

By Lee Hsien Loong

Four years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) to achieve the vision of a 'Clean India' by 2019. Fittingly, October 2, 2019, is also the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who championed sanitation as a national priority.

Over the last four years, India has made great progress, building more than 86 million toilets for households, and declaring 470,000 villages free or open defecation. Singapore has travelled this journey too.

In the early days, many homes were not sewered. 'Nightsoil' was collected in buckets, and transported by malodorous trucks to sewerage plants. Often, the human waste was dumped into nearby streams and rivers, polluting and poisoning the waters. Our founding fathers launched a national campaign to 'Keep Singapore Clean'. We sewered up every home, cleaned up our rivers, and made a clean and green city.

In particular, we cleaned up the Singapore River. In the process, we had to clear thousands of squatters, backyard industries, pig farms and countless other sources of pollution in the catchment of the river. Today, a clean Singapore River flows through the city into Marina Reservoir, which feeds into our national water supply. India is a country on a vastly different scale from Singapore.

The Ganga is almost a thousand times longer than the Singapore River. Yet, there are some parallels in our sanitation journeys. First, both countries' experiences demonstrate the importance of vision and leadership. The late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Modi both made it a priority to keep the country clean and green. They personally are public campaigns to raise awareness and mobilize the masses. Modi has said that Lee was a "personal inspiration", and that he had drawn from Lee's idea that "transformation of a nation begins with a change in the way we are". Indeed, SBM is not just a program to clean India's environment but a deeper reform to "transform the way we think, live and work".

Second, success requires longterm national commitment. Singapore implemented a Sewerage Master Plan to separate our sewerage and drainage networks. The aim was to prevent rainwater from being contaminated, so that it could be collected and used. At the same time, Singapore recycles used water from sewage treatment plants, purifying it through reverse osmosis, producing 'NEWater', an ultra-clean, high-grade water fit for drinking. We took one problem -what to do with water-and turned it into a solution to another problem: water scarcity.

Third, both Singapore and India value international cooperation. The same solution may not work in adifferent country, but we can all benefit from sharing and sharing experiences. I congratulate India on hosting the inaugural Mahatma Gandhi International Sanitation Convention, which has brought together leaders, practitioners and experts from around the world to share their sanitation stories.

In 2013, the UN adopted Singapore's resolution, 'Sanitation for All', to commemorate November 19 as World Toilet Day. Singapore is happy to share experiences with India, as it continues to evolve more liveable and sustainable Smart Cities across the country. Singapore has collaborated with India's Town and Country Planning Organization to train 100 officials in urban planning, and water and waste management.

Singapore also looks like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra to provide urban solutions as they develop their cities. I wish Prime Minister Modi and the people of India the best in SBM to 'Clean India'.

I also look forward to the future of the UN Sustainable Development Goal of clean water and sanitation for our people for generations to come.

The writer is Prime Minister of Singapore.

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