2010/07/22

Singapore flood response not sufficient: Lee Kuan Yew

SINGAPORE, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - The Singapore government's measures to reduce the impact of recent floods on homes and businesses were insufficient, the island's founding father Lee Kuan Yew said in remarks published Thursday.

Lee, commenting on Wednesday after Singapore suffered three bouts of severe flooding since mid-June, added that constant rain and limited land area made it difficult to totally prevent floods in the tropical city-state.

"How can you say that the response is sufficient?" Lee was quoted as saying by the Straits Times when asked if the government's measures to alleviate the flooding had been up to standard.

"Of course, Singaporeans expect everything to be perfect - which we try to do, but there are some things which are beyond that."

The 86-year-old former prime minister, now an adviser to his son Lee Hsien Loong's government, said Singapore's small land area made it difficult to deal with "acts of God."

Singapore used to be an exception in a region plagued by disasters but the recent flash floods have caused serious property damage and disrupted lives across the island, denting its reputation for urban management.

Critics have blasted the Public Utilities Board (PUB) for not being prepared to handle the first two floods, while the department defended itself by saying abnormal weather conditions and clogged drains were to blame.

Officials have vowed to improve the drainage network and step up alert systems to forewarn residents and businesses to limit the impact of future floods.

The government has identified 52 flood-prone zones, including the financial district and the Orchard Road shopping belt, and some establishments including luxury shops have resorted to installing unsightly sandbag barricades.

"There is a limited amount of space that you can dig underground, limited amount of space that you can have run-offs for canals," Lee noted.

"Whatever we do when we get extraordinary rains like we had recently, no amount of engineering can prevent flooding... unless you want to lose half the roads and have canals."