August 8, 2002

Flood of jokes greets Singapore
water recycling plan

Story by John O'Callaghan

SINGAPORE - Jokes are flowing thick and fast about Singapore's moves to recycle water from toilet bowls, the latest plan to reduce reliance on supplies from Malaysia. The satirical Web site TalkingCock cut straight to the chase with "Singaporeans preparing to drink own pee".
Singapore relies on its neighbour for about half of the 300 million gallons of water it consumes every day, but the two sides have been trading verbal punches before next month's negotiations on setting a new price after current agreements expire. "We don't want to sell water to them," Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Tuesday. "We are losing money selling to them."
Resource-parched Singapore countered by saying it would need less from Malaysia in future because it could fill some of its requirements by turning waste water into so-called "Newater".
TalkingCock, which means "spouting nonsense" in Singapore slang, had its own version of the government campaign to sell the idea of Newater to the city state's four million people.
"It's totally natural, like Evian, except that it doesn't come down from snowy alpine rivers but from your very own kidneys," it quoted a fictitious official telling sceptical residents of a housing estate.
In reality, Newater has been certified cleaner than tap water by a panel of international experts. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong gave it his seal of approval by swigging a bottle for the local press after a recent game of tennis. Singaporeans will get to taste it for themselves when 60,000 bottles are handed out at the National Day parade on Friday.
Only government officials know to what extent Singapore intends to cut its reliance on Malaysian water, but the heavy emphasis on the possibilities of Newater clearly is designed to be a bargaining chip over price.
Singapore now pays three Malaysian cents (less than one U.S. cent) for every thousand gallons of raw water piped in. Malaysia said last month it was ready to rework the pricing formula after a proposal to make the city state pay 100 times more by 2007 was rejected. One joke e-mail doing the rounds envisions a novel solution to the long-standing tensions over water.
"In the landmark deal, Malaysia has agreed to divert its vast sewerage network across the peninsula into Singapore so that the island republic can have unlimited supply of human waste for recycling into Newater," it reads.
But TalkingCock said Temasek Holdings, Singapore's powerful state investment agency, had other plans - collecting the urine of high-ranking politicians to bottle and age like fine wine.
"We believe that the pee of our highly gifted leaders is not ordinary urine and should be treated as such," a fictitious official said. "It's tentatively called Cabinet Sauvignon."