From ‘Call it what it is: Flooding’, 27 Dec 2011, Today
(Peter Loon Seng Chee): From a “once in 50 years” event, flooding is now expected in almost every heavy downpour, reducing our first-world roads to a wet mess. But in “No floods in Orchard Rd, just ‘ponding’: PUB” (Dec 24). this was referred to as “ponding”.
It would be sad if we resort to word usage to dissipate the impact of these floods. We have been offered reasons, and remedies have been promised, but the issue has become a crisis over the past two years.
Do our officials have a handle on this problem? Has the incessant load of new developments in recent years exceeded the limit of our national drainage system?
The new head of the national water agency, from this month, is an ex-Navy chief. What are the credentials that enable him to head PUB? When my friends from overseas talk about visiting Singapore, they joke about packing canoes and scuba gear, and I am embarrassed to have nothing to say in defence. It is time for a solution.
The CEO in question is Chew Men Leong, who cited his relevant Navy experience in ‘balancing’ to be relevant to ‘maintaining our complex system at a high level of operational effectiveness and efficiency, while keeping an eye on the long term future’. A goal you could attribute to any aspiring organisation really, whether it’s a public amenities board or a kaya toast business. There’s something almost comically naive and ironic about selecting a seaman , whose job is to keep things afloat on large bodies of water, to manage floods; it’s like getting a oil driller tycoon to deal with earthquakes. I would have some faith if Chew had at least submarine admiral experience, when one’s very life depends on the vessel NOT spouting a leak. Or maybe I’ve just watched Crimson Tide once too often.
A Navy chief may know everything there is about seawater, how it tastes, how high it rises when one drops anchor, but ‘ponding’ is really a drainage problem, and the only pipes that most sailors are familiar with are those that Popeye smoke. However, according to the man’s Facebook page, he’s a trained engineer and Master of Science before military service (which suggests some knowledge about fluid systems). He’s also helmed a missile gunboat, who sounds impressively macho but this time he’s waging war against an entirely different and utterly formidable enemy altogether: Our crazy weather. You also need someone not just with the ground expertise of a mole or a dungeon keeper, but someone with the clout to put a stop to any activity suspected of aggravating floods at the expense of progress. Wait, don’t we have a minister of Environment and Water Resources for that, you say? He’s a surgeon by profession, so maybe a knowledge of arteries, veins and heart valves may come in handy. ‘Ponding’ would be like fluid congestion or edema in the legs during heart (pump) failure. He just hasn’t figured out how to apply this analogy successfully yet.
But here’s an interesting history of ‘ponding’, and it may surprise some to know that this isn’t a new euphemism for floods at all:
As early as the 20′s, ‘ponding’ wasn’t an apparition of heavy downpours in today’s context. It was in fact used as a PREVENTIVE, and probably outdated, measure against flooding, as in ‘ponding and pumping’. A ‘ponding area’ was used to hold off floodwater during ‘adverse tides’. The first instance of ‘ponding’ being twisted into a euphemism for floods was probably sometime in the early eighties. In fact, the work done then to alleviate ‘ponding’ had nothing to do with tugrope knot-tying skills or yelling ‘Land Ho!’; scupper drains were enlarged, drains unchoked and road depressions were patched, very ‘grounded’ and dirty work indeed. Between a naval officer’s ‘sea legs’ and a road sweeper, I would think the latter has a better eye for ‘ponding’ zones and drainage.
2000 saw the following familiar headline: ‘No floods, only ‘water ponding’ (22 Jan 2000, Today). Not only was this a sloppy cushion for bad news but a bad tautology as well. What else could one find in a ‘pond’ if not WATER? Perhaps a frog sitting on a lotus pad if you’re lucky. My heart goes out to Wendy’s and Starbucks of Liat Towers, but this calls for a change in business model. A poolside cafe, mini bum boat ride for kids, fish spa or prawning deck could do wonders for capital recovery instead of waiting around for PUB to fix the problem or stacking sandbags, only to watch your burgers and frappuccinos washed away in pond murk. There’s another downside to hiring a Rear Admiral to head PUB though, there’s a pun just waiting to happen if the board fails to live up to its mission: Being ALL AT SEA (hurr hurr!)