Speech by Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and the Environment, at Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment’s Committtee of Supply (COS) Debate 2023, 2 March 2023
Upholding our Public Health Defences
1 Chairman, dengue continues to pose a serious threat to Singapore. In fact, this situation is also due to our success in tackling dengue over the decades. In the sixties and seventies, dengue was prevalent and was a major cause of childhood death. While we have significantly reduced the local population’s exposure to the disease, it has also resulted in low population dengue immunity today. That is why we must continue to step up efforts in the fight against dengue.
2 NEA adopts a holistic dengue control strategy. This includes 1) surveillance of the Aedes mosquito population and dengue virus with the help of Gravitraps, 2) working with premises managers and residents to eliminate mosquito breeding, and 3) publicity campaigns and outreach. This includes the use of purple alert banners introduced last year to inform residents of areas with high mosquito population. NEA also partners key stakeholders such as Town Councils in mosquito control efforts. In addition, the Ministry of Health and the Health Sciences Authority monitor the development of and evaluate dengue vaccines and therapeutics. The evaluation of the TAK-003 vaccine, which Ms Sylvia Lim asked about, is currently ongoing.
3 Last year, more than 32,000 dengue cases were reported locally, the second highest in Singapore’s recorded history. While dengue cases have decreased from the peak in the middle of last year, weekly cases remain high, with the potential of another surge in cases.
4 NEA has been leveraging technology to strengthen our existing dengue control regime. One example is Project Wolbachia, where non-biting male Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitoes, are released at selected dengue high-risk areas to suppress the local mosquito population. To Ms Hany Soh, Mr Gan Thiam Poh and Ms Poh Li San’s query on the progress of this pilot project, I am pleased to report that results thus far have been encouraging. Initial studies have shown that continued releases of male Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitoes can successfully suppress the urban Aedes aegypti mosquito population in release sites.
In the initial field studies in Tampines, Yishun, Choa Chu Kang and Bukit Batok, where there have been more than one year of releases, we have observed up to 98 per cent drop in the Aedes aegypti mosquito population and up to 88 per cent reduction of dengue cases. During the 2022 outbreak, the technology has prevented large clusters in these areas, where dengue transmission used to be high historically.
5 In the second half of last year, NEA expanded Project Wolbachia pilot to eight additional sites. This is part of a multi-site field study to determine the impact of Wolbachia technology on dengue cases and clusters. Alongside HDB blocks, NEA has also been carrying out releases at landed residential estates to determine the most effective and impactful approach for wider-scale deployment. Based on early data, declining Aedes aegypti mosquito populations have also been observed in these areas.
6 With the expansion last year, Project Wolbachia now covers more than 300,000 households, which is about 30 per cent of all HDB blocks and 9 per cent of all landed homes across Singapore. NEA will continue to collaborate with commercial partners to enhance automation and scale up both in-house and outsourced Wolbachia-Aedes mosquito production and release capacity to support the ongoing study. We will continue to collect data for rigorous evaluation of the Wolbachia technology and to refine the deployment strategies, to allow cost effective expansion in the next few years.
7 Regardless, the Wolbachia technology is not a silver bullet. Profuse breeding of Aedes mosquitoes could reverse the success effected by the Wolbachia technology. NEA will continue to work with partner agencies and stakeholders to detect and remove potential mosquito breeding habitats, and will take firm enforcement action where necessary.
8 Our community must continue to play an active part in upkeeping our environment to prevent mosquito breeding and curb transmission of the dengue virus. This is why NEA has been working closely with community partners.
9 For example, NEA collaborated with the West Coast and Pioneer grassroots organisations to tackle several large dengue clusters in the area last year. Roadshows were organised to educate residents on measures to prevent mosquito breeding and to protect themselves from dengue. Grassroots volunteers also conducted house visits and distributed educational flyers and insect repellent. The concerted efforts contributed to slowing down the transmission of dengue infections from almost 40 cases a week at the peak, to the eventual successful closure of the clusters.
10 I would like to thank all residents and grassroots volunteers for their continued support for Project Wolbachia, and playing their part in our fight against dengue.
Partnering the Community
11 Minister Fu shared how the government is leading our nation’s green transition. To succeed in our goal, we will need communities and individuals to step up and step forward. We are committed to partnering the community to foster a more liveable and sustainable society. This is the only way for us to meet our climate goals.
Green Action for Communities (GAC) Movement
12 To cultivate a culture of sustainability within the community, my Ministry together with MND and MCCY, launched the Green Action for Communities (GAC) movement last year. The nationwide movement brings together community leaders and residents to plan, organise, and co-implement sustainability initiatives in their communities to support the Singapore Green Plan.
13 Ms Nadia Samdin asked about the support and resources provided for GAC groups. We have held capacity building workshops for GAC groups in all five districts and are rolling out localised deep dives where community leaders discuss in smaller groups to formulate plans that best meet the unique needs and conditions of their communities. Residents and volunteers who are passionate about sustainability come together, and are empowered to develop their own action plans to rally their communities and champion sustainability initiatives in their neighbourhoods. We have also published a GAC guidebook for GAC groups to look for ideas, funding and partners for sustainability initiatives.
14 The workshops have been very fruitful, with great ideas that meet the community’s needs, for example, repairing, proper recycling of e-waste, composting of food waste, having a car-free day, and more community involvement in tree-planting activities. I am happy that residents are passionate about rallying the communities and spreading the sustainability message in their neighbourhoods.
15 We will embark on the next phase this year to galvanise community participation in the action plans and showcase some of the key programmes. Residents will be able to contribute their ideas and participate in the programmes.
16 I thank all community partners for their commitment and passion in driving this movement. I hope we will see many more Community Eco-Days and other green initiatives like what Ms Nadia Samdin and her team have done.
Climate Action Week (CAW)
17 Through MSE’s annual Climate Action Week (CAW), we have been working with our partners to encourage communities to take collective climate action towards a sustainable future for Singapore. We are happy to see increasing participation from the People, Private and Public sectors.
18 Last year’s CAW saw over 140 activities organised by 80 partners; the highest number since its launch in 2019. The activities, which aimed to increase awareness of and spur action against climate change, included community events, workshops, talks, learning journeys, school and youth activities, clean-ups, promotions and green challenges.
19 This year, we are excited to rebrand Climate Action Week as Go Green SG. This will better reflect the wide range of sustainability initiatives and programmes it encompasses. I urge our People, Private and Public sector partners to join this community movement and organise sustainability-related activities beyond just a week, to rally even more Singaporeans towards a sustainable lifestyle. There will be a wide range of activities for everyone when Go Green SG is launched in early July this year.
20 As Minister of State Mr Alvin Tan announced, Singapore has been certified as a sustainable urban destination by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. To strengthen our position as a sustainable urban destination, I am pleased to announce that Go Green SG will be collaborating closely with the Singapore Tourism Board, to showcase to the world the various sustainable experiences that Singapore has to offer. Singaporeans can join international visitors in more lifestyle programming to learn more about sustainability through fun and meaningful immersive experiences.
SG Eco Fund
21 Ms Nadia Samdin asked about the SG Eco Fund and engaging youths to encourage more ground-up sustainability initiatives. SG Eco Fund was launched in November 2020 to support ground-up solutions for a greener and more sustainable Singapore. For the most recent grant call, I am pleased to announce that $2.4 million was awarded to 77 worthy projects that span various sectors and topics.
22 Among them, we have a group of students that are using food scraps to breed crickets as an ingredient for making pet food, and a project to teach women from vulnerable backgrounds to upcycle unwanted clothing donations into useful items.
23 Golden Cap Farm, a local start-up, will run a pilot programme to collect used coffee grounds from cafes and reuse it as a substrate for growing mushrooms. They will also organise mushroom farm tours and composting workshops.
24 Social enterprise Two Glasses is raising awareness about the impact of fast fashion and overconsumption through short films and community discussions. They are also developing a counter for people to track new clothing purchased and number of times they wear each piece of clothing. This aims to encourage a shift in behaviour of overconsumption.
25 Just from this sampling of projects, we can see ideas for food waste, used to produce food for either humans or pets, and those that evolve around the clothes we wear: stop excessive buying and upcycle unwanted clothes. To date, 182 individuals and organisation have been awarded $9 million in funding. The range of topics will help to move us towards our climate and Green Plan goals. More importantly, we see that grant recipients come from all walks of life.
26 As Professor Koh Lian Pin pointed out, there are several funding schemes besides the SG Eco Fund that enable communities to take action. Each scheme is designed to encourage action with varying thematic or stakeholder considerations, and is assessed accordingly. As what Professor Koh said so well: “Everyone from every sector has important contributions to make.” We need everyone to work together towards a sustainable Singapore. With the various funding support schemes available, we hope that whether you are young or old, an individual or an organisation, you can play a part to build our Green Nation.
27 We all have a shared responsibility in achieving our climate goals. We must come together as a nation to work towards this important and urgent matter. I urge all Singaporeans to join forces on climate action. We must act together now for a greener and more sustainable Singapore.