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Saving Singapore’s last kampung: what’s next for Pulau Ubin and its dwindling, ageing population?

Activists in Pulau Ubin have told The Independent Singapore that there may only be around 50 people left who live on the island, many of whom are elderly, and live in remote areas, where they may not have the best access to either health assistance or even fresh food that would make for proper nutrition, as refrigeration is an issue on the island

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Singapore—In an age of rapidly modernizing society, what lies in store for Pulau Ubin, which is widely considered to be the country’s last kampung?

The island off of the country’s eastern shores, where people can enjoy treks and trails in the wild, is fondly and nostalgically remembered by so many, but in reality, the islands’ decreasing and aging population are facing an uncertain future.

Pulau Ubin’s future was brought up recently in Parliament by Nominated MP Anthea Ong, who asked the Minister for National Development four pertinent questions:

  1. What are the Ministry’s five- and 10-year plans for the population of Pulau Ubin?

  2. What is the population by age and gender of Pulau Ubin since 2014?

  3. What criteria are used for this calculation?

  4. What are the measures in place to meet their healthcare, social and emotional needs, and by whom?

According to Lawrence Wong, the Minister for National Development, the government’s plan at present is to “keep Pulau Ubin a natural getaway for Singaporeans to enjoy.”

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He said that around 130 individuals who live and work on the island. Mr Wong also pointed out that the National Parks Board (NParks), which took over as the island’s central managing agent in June 2016, is working “closely” with FUN, or the Friends of Ubin Network, which he described as “a group of diverse stakeholders, to ensure the well-being of the residents in Pulau Ubin.”

He added that in order to address the needs of the community on the island, NParks has established a Community Liaison Team, which “gathers feedback from the community, and coordinates the sensitive improvement of facilities and services to meet household needs,” such as safety inspections, house repairs, garbage disposal, the distribution of drinking water, and the like.

Mr Wong added, “The team also coordinates with agencies, community partners and the grassroots to provide resources and programmes for the welfare of Ubin’s residents. Collectively, these efforts aim to preserve Ubin’s cultural heritage and way of life.”

However, other reports seem to contradict Mr Wong’s answer. For example, a report from The Straits Times (ST) from February of this year says that ever since NParks has taken charge of Pulau Ubin’s management three years ago, the implementation of additional rules has resulted in fewer visitors, as well as the resulting drop in income for the island’s residents’ incomes.

The article quotes Lee Ah Yong, 59, co-runs Chew Teck Seng provision shop, as saying, “It’s obvious visitorship has dropped. During my first Christmas working on Ubin in 2016, business was good. We had a turnover of $1,500 just from selling drinks. In 2017, it dropped to $500. Last year saw a record low of $200 to $300.”

Additionally, the article says that Pulau Ubin once held 3,000 residents, whereas today only 100 people or 70 households remain there.

In March 2018, TODAY also ran a story about Pulau Ubin’s boatmen noting that fewer visitors to the island, and the effect on the boatmen’s income.

One boat operator, 70-year-old Kit Kau Chye, was quoted in the article as saying, “I don’t know what will happen in the future. It looks like this business will be history, because there are no successors. Let nature take its course.”

Interestingly, Mr Wong did not answer the Nominated MP’s question concerning the breakdown of the population of Pulau Ubin by age and gender, and what criteria was used for calculating this.

On-ground activists on Pulau Ubin have told The Independent Singapore that perhaps there may only be around 50 people left who live on the island, many of whom are elderly, and live in remote areas, where they may not have the best access to either health assistance or even fresh food that would make for proper nutrition, as refrigeration is an issue on the island.

It begs the question as to whether more effort is needed in saving the country’s last kampung from disappearing from modern life completely. -/TISG

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