Access to clean water and food are basic human rights. Since its independence in 1965, Singapore has been entirely dependent on others for these basic needs, and it wants to change the narrative.

The city-state has laid out ambitious plans to produce more of its own food, have greater water security, and build a circular economy to reduce waste, as climate change threatens agriculture and water supplies globally. Making sense of data is going to be critical in managing and tracking these goals.

“Imagine if you can visualise problems in real time. And imagine you can overlay this with information on where you are placing your resources. It soon becomes clear that leaders can reallocate their resources and tackle pressing problems,” according to Alvin Pang, Head of Enterprise, Singapore at Tableau.

Chasing water falls

Singapore has a water problem. Imported water currently makes up about half of the city’s needs. Its water contract with neighbouring Malaysia, however, expires in 2061, and there are emerging fears that prolonged drought and pollution may affect water supply.

To increase water security, the government is looking to decrease its dependence on water imports. The water agency hopes domestic production of water can meet about 85 percent of water needs in Singapore in 2060.

Its water agency is tracking four national taps – water from local catchments, imported water, NEWater, desalinated water – to make sure the city has enough supply. Meanwhile, CCTVs scattered around reservoirs track water levels, while the weather agency monitors seasonal rainfall.

This information plotted as a data visualisation can ensure the optimal use of different taps. Combined with information from other agencies and industries on water use, policy planners can also come up with more targeted strategies to reduce waster waste and reuse water for cooling processes.

Zero waste Singapore

Singapore generated 7.7 million tons of waste in 2017 – a seven-fold increase from 40 years ago, according to the Environment Ministry. The city is running out of space for waste, and needs to look at reducing and reusing waste for sustainable development.

2019 has been named the year towards zero waste, and authorities want to look at how Singapore can develop a circular economy to make sure waste is recycled and reused as much as possible.

Building a circular economy will require tracking waste and resources carefully so they can be reused and recycled. For example, the data visualisation notes that Singapore produces a huge amount of construction waste, but also does a good job in recycling most of it. Having these data points can help planners identify areas where more needs to be done, and monitor the progress of its vision towards zero waste.

Keeping tabs on food

Singapore wants to grow 30 percent of its own food by 2030, up from the current 10 percent. It plans to do this by setting aside more land for farming and investing in agri-tech solutions to grow more with less. It set up the Singapore Food Agency this year to manage food safety and security specifically.

Countries with a strong agricultural industry, like Australia, use data visualisation to monitor food sources, diet trends, and food imports and exports. This can help policy planners set aside resources for farming and the type of food to grow. Farmers can also use data to identify efficiencies for greater productivity and profitability and lower input costs.

“What gets measured gets managed,” according to Peter Drucker, a pioneer in management thinking. As Singapore looks to secure its own water and food resources and reduce waste, data analytics may just be key.