The Water Chronicles — A Timeline of the Singapore-Malaysia Water Issue

Info droplets on water supply issues across both sides of the Causeway.

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Photo: YouTube screengrab

Of several issues that disrupt harmony between Singapore and Malaysia, the most contentious one presently involves water, with both countries increasingly airing their sides.

But, how did it all begin and develop?

Four agreements

  • Malaysia and Singapore signed four water agreements in 1927, 1961, 1962 and 1990.
  • Subsequent agreements voided the first one while the 1961 pact has expired.

Importance

  • 1927 – 2011: Half of Singapore’s water needs met by Malaysia
  • 2011: 1961 pact expired, Singapore reduces dependence on Malaysia for water
  • 2061: Singapore to be self-sufficient waterwise and final two agreements to expire

The 1927 Agreement

  • Singapore allowed to rent 8.5 sq km of land in Gunong Pulai in the Malaysian state of Johor for supplying raw water, for the price of 30 sen per 4,047 sqm as annual rental fees.
  • Water was actually free. An additional 64.7 sq km of land in Johor was set aside for possible further use, with additional fees
  • For its part, Johor could have 3,637 cubic metres daily of treated water from Singapore at a rate of 25 sen per 4.55 cu m, with a provision for an increase after 1929

The 1961 Agreement

  • Singapore becomes a self-governing state; Malaysia had obtained independence.
  • An agreement between Singapore and Johor was signed on Oct 2, 1961, known as the Tebrau and Scudai Rivers Water Agreement, giving Singapore full and exclusive rights to all the water for a specific land area from Gunong Pulai, Sungei Tebrau and Sungei Scudai, from 1961 through to 2011, or for a period of 50 years.
  • Singapore to pay annual rent of RM5 per acre for the land, as well as 3 sen for every 1,000 gallons of raw water drawn. In return, Singapore to supply Johor daily with treated water of up to 12 percent of the raw water drawn, with a minimum of 18,184 cu m, and at the price of 50 cents per 1,000 gallons. Provisions for more treated water to be supplied to Johor, when necessary.
  • Price review possible in 25 years

The 1962 Agreement

  • Known as the Johor River Water Agreement
  • Valid until 2061, or for 99 years
  • Singapore allowed 1.14 million cu m from Johor River daily; 3 sen for every 3.78 cu m drawn
  • Singapore obligated to supply treated water to Johor of up to two percent of the raw water it provides; 50 cents per 3.78 cu m
  • Singapore pays rent on the land “at the standard rate applicable to building lots on town land”, and follows water rates and prices stated in the 1961 agreement
  • Price review possible in 25 years

1986 and 1987, the 25-year mark for the two agreements

  • Johor opts not to review the price of water under the agreements (It is important to note that under these agreements, neither country can unilaterally raise the price of water)
  • The Separation Agreement signed between Singapore and Malaysia on Aug 9, 1965 guaranteed the water agreements from 1961 and 1962

The 1990 Agreement

  • Supplementary to the 1962 ageement
  • Signed between Singapore’s Public Utilities Board (PUB) and Johor
  • Allowed Singapore to build Sungei Linggiu dam to extract water from Johor River
  • Singapore paid RM320 million for the land, premiums of RM18,000 per hectare and yearly rent of RM30 per 92.9 sqm, and agreed to shoulder building, and maintenance costs
  • Singapore can buy Johor’s treated water from new dam over and beyond the 250 mgd of raw water it drew from the Johor River under the 1962 agreement
  • Price for additional water would be based on the weighted average of Johor’s water tariffs plus 50 percent of the surplus from the sale of this water by PUB to its consumers after deducting Johor’s price and PUB’s cost of distribution, or 115 percent of the weighted average of Johor’s water tariffs, whichever was higher
  • The 1990 Water Agreement ended six years of water negotiations between the both nations’ leaders

Since 1990

1998 Price of raw water sold to Singapore is 3 sen*

2000-2002

  • Malaysia suggests several price increases for raw water, from 45 sen to RM 6.25 for every 3.78 cu m (1000 gallons)
  • Periodic price reviews and adjustments due to inflation
  • Mahathir seeks resolution on the price of raw water, thus affecting bilateral issues

2003

Singapore’s foreign affairs minister Prof S Jayakumar states that neither country can unilaterally change the 1961 and 1962 agreements

2011

  • 1961 agreement ended
  • Singapore turns over all agreement land and facilities, with country’s water supply unaffected

2018

  • 1962 water agreement terms re-affirmed at year’s start
  • June: Malaysia’s prime minister Mahathir calls price of raw water sold from Johor to Singapore “ridiculous”
  • July: Malaysia’s foreign affairs minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah wants review of the 1962 agreement water prices, Singapore’s PM Lee Hsien Loong and foreign affairs minister Vivian Balakrishnan disagree with this
  • Nov: PM Lee and Mahathir agreed to further discussions on the issue

2019 Mar

  • Mahathir claims that Malaysia would win if water issue is taken to the World Court
  • Singapore’s Balakrishnan says it is up to citizens to decide on fairness of water price
  • Malaysia’s Saifuddin calls Balakrishnan’s words “reckless” and “malicious”