Get Real, Not Hysterical : Thoughts on Singapore’s Flashfloods

ORCHARD ROAD IS FLOODED!!!! on Twitpic “HAAAH???! ORCHARD ROAD KENA FLOODED, AH?!” was a common phrase muttered (in true Singlish fashion)  by many shocked Singaporeans on 16 June 2010. Flash floods due to heavy rains that morning had temporarily inundated the heart of Singapore’s iconic shopping stretch at around 10am.  I must admit, I was initially shocked as well. While there have been a series of flash floods happening in other parts of Singapore, never in the past 20 years had this glitzy part of town been engulfed by a sea of “Milo”.

But in true Singapore fashion, government response to the emergency was swift. Civil defense forces were on site pumping the clogged water in the basement carparks and lower levels of shopping centres. Sometime just after lunch,  most of the milo had been cleared away.

Aside from shock, there were also  some other feelings expressed. For one, there seemed to be a morbid sense of amusement, for the fact that this (plus the numerous trees falling along the roads and expressways) was perhaps the most “exciting” thing to happen in Singapore since the last major Earthquake in Indonesia, whose tremors rippled through the concrete island.

But then again, can you really blame them? While Singapore has been blessed with a relatively highly efficient and functioning system, it inevitably makes us assume a sense of immunity, and thus perceive even a minor mishap to be a major disaster. This has been reflected in feelings of anxiety and paranoia of such “disasters”.

“OMG how could THIS happen to SINGAPORE?! Impossible!! It looks like Jakarta!”

But seriously, how could it not happen to Singapore? An island situated in the tropics with neighbouring regions highly susceptible to cyclones – how could it not? Singapore is clearly not an exception.

Accompanying such anxiety would be a tendency to complain and start a blame game.  Government officials have provided an explanation to what caused the Orchard road flood, which stated that despite the Stamford Canal drainage system’s ability to withstand the high level of rainfall,  large amounts of debris/vegetation built up in Stamford Canal, had caused the blockage within the canal. So who’s to blame here? The public for littering? Or perhaps even the effects of urbanisation that causes greater likelihood of soil erosion? More criticism came after subsequent flooding in other parts of the island later that week.

Whatever the case maybe, it is important that the people of Singapore realise that our disasters are merely a tip of the iceberg of what the “real world” across the seas are facing. The failure to be resilient in such minor incidents, may not equip us enough for tougher situations. Disaster preparedness cannot be ensured  from the top-down, but must also be the responsibility of the masses, wherein they are able to face challenges without assuming the need for the state to intervene to alleviate their discomfort. (That said, there was certainly resilience amongst the numerous women that braved the Orchard Road flood for the Mango sale!)

For Pete’s sake, its just a flashflood. Let’s Get Real, Not Hysterical.


4 responses to “Get Real, Not Hysterical : Thoughts on Singapore’s Flashfloods”

  1. Amen, Jamal. Let Singaporeans come and see the floods they get in North Queensland…then they’d REALLY get hysterical.


  2. Nice writeup!
    While Singapore is indeed just another tropical island nation, over the past decades, we have built this feeling of superiority and invincibility to such an extent that I fear that the average Singaporean is not mentally equipped to handle even minor incidents, such as a small flash flood, short power outages or vehicle breakdowns.
    Having a government-built bomb shelter in every [newer] home is not going to be that useful if one doesnt have any emergency supplies.


  3. great piece. u got it right with ur assertion of ‘ effect of urbanization…..greater likelihood of soil erosion!’


  4. Why does the SG Gov’t seem nervous to be honest about the flash floods? And have the floods become worse in recent years? Where is water coming from, any change in vegetation there? Keep up the good work Sr Sofiah. In peace, Rianne


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