Forging a Greener Tomorrow: Singapore’s environmental journey from slum to eco-city

In conjunction with its 40th anniversary, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources has released a book that tells the story of how Singapore was transformed from a third world slum to a first world eco-city. Through the use of colorful graphics of the island’s landscape and anecdotes from key personalities, the book aims to be an engaging and visually appealing read, while sharing the considerations in the management of our environment and water resources.


Forging a Greener Tomorrow: Singapore’s environmental journey from slum to eco-city

Chapter 1: Starting from Scratch
Chapter 2: Building Blocks
Chapter 3: Hardware to Software
Chapter 4: Dawn of a New Era
Chapter 5: What Lies Ahead?


Preface by Jessica Cheam

Many today will look back on Singapore’s early post-independence kampong days with nostalgia and memories of a simpler village life. But those who knew Singapore in the ’50s and ’60s will also recall how water supply was frequently disrupted, came from standpipes and had to be carried home in pails for cooking and washing. Toilets were outdoor huts with a hole in the ground that housed a night soil bucket – these had to be changed manually every day by an army of daily-rated employees, dispatched throughout Singapore to maintain some semblance of cleanliness in the chaos of the slums scattered around the city. Streets were choked with rubbish and congested with hawkers plying their food amid poor hygiene conditions; various kinds of waste were discharged into rivers and waterways, making them open sewers. The risk of catching diseases such as typhoid, malaria and cholera was high. Singapore has come a long way since those days to become an internationally recognised clean and green city, known for its innovation in recycling water to the highest standards. Its streets are among the cleanest in the world, and its rivers and waterways now double as water catchments and recreational venues for kayaking and water-skiing. It was no easy feat, but thanks to the vision, commitment and tireless efforts of the people charged with pulling Singapore out of its slum conditions, the transformation was possible in four short decades. This book, commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources for its 40th anniversary, tells the story of that journey through the insights and anecdotes of key personalities. It traces the origins of the ministry, charts its course through the trying decades, and grapples with the present and future challenges that Singapore faces in an increasingly resource-constrained world where environment and climate issues have taken centre stage. It takes you behind the scenes to reveal the forces that put Singapore on its quest to be a global, model sustainable city.

I hope this book will be read by Singaporeans who wish to play a role in improving the living environment, whether they are working in the government or the environment and water industry, or are just concerned members of the public. The latter group is especially important because the environment is everyone's business, and is too important to be left to only the professionals and policy makers. It will be an added bonus if professionals in other cities also find the book useful to their work. Since more than half of the world's population live in cities and all of us live on the same earth, each person taking action to improve his local environment will collectively result in significant improvements for the global environment.


The book is now available in schools and public libraries.

A PDF version of the book is also available for download here(pdf, 11mb).

Alternatively, you can drop us an email at,, with “MEWR Turns 40!” as the Subject.