PERISCOPE: Singapore-Malaysia Water Dispute

Written By: Wong Sean Yew (19-U4) and Aloysius Tng (19-U4)

Designed By: Jo Yeoul (19-A2)

Where’s My Water?

Water, is it really wet? With the current water dispute between Singapore and Malaysia, we may never find out.

On a more serious note, with the paradigm shift in the Malaysian political landscape, there has been a change in official government policy regarding certain clauses of the 1962 water treaty that was signed between Malaysia and Singapore. Following poor fiscal management and alleged corruption by the previous Prime Minister , the current Malaysian government has claimed that the financial situation is now untenable, with a factor being the 1962 water treaty. Prime Minister Dr Mahathir feels that paying 3 sen per thousand gallons drawn is unsustainable, especially due to inflation and the burgeoning federal debt. Hence, Malaysia feels that it is reasonable to request for an amendment to the treaty and raise the price of the water sold.

However, Singapore does not share the same views. It believes that the water treaty has already been finalised, because the Malaysian government did not review the treaty in 1986 and 1987, thus losing the right to amend the treaty. Furthermore, the Singapore government argues that it spends money to maintain water processing facilities on the Johor River, with the construction of the Sungei Linggu Dam. The Singapore government also argues that the agreement benefits Malaysia as Singapore sells treated water back to Johor at 50 sen per 1000 gallons, a small portion of the cost needed to treat the water, making this fair and partial to both parties.

Points of Contention

Symbiotic Relationship between Singapore and Malaysia (UC: Interdependence)

Singapore and Malaysia are neighbouring countries, with a long history of bilateral cooperation. The water provided by Malaysia has been essential for Singapore’s survival, and is still critical for our current water needs (making up 50% of our water supply). Similarly, Singapore provides water to the state of Johor Malaysia at a profitable and generous rate. Both parties rely on each other to fulfil their needs, more so in the case of Singapore, and this longstanding agreement of over 40 years has benefitted Malaysia and Singapore tremendously.

Diametrically Opposed Points of View (UC: Beliefs & Values)

In this dispute, the dichotomy between the beliefs and values these neighbours share can be clearly seen. As a small country, Singapore is vulnerable to the whims of larger countries, and hence strongly believes in the value of international law and bilateral agreements. As such, the governmental stance heavily emphasises on the clauses enshrined in the 1962 Water Treaty, in order to avoid a precedent of amending agreements. In contrast, the Malaysia government feels that the treaty should be updated due to its unfair clauses, which have been rendered obsolescent with the passage of time. In the past, 3 sen was more valuable, and was thus a reasonable price for water, as compared to the current time.

Author’s Comments

This article brings to you a event close to home. The water dispute has been garnering an increasing amount of attention and such an issue could have great ramifications for us Singaporeans. This dispute highlights the relationship we share with our next-door neighbour Malaysia, with the differing views of two parties who feel they are justified in this disagreement. This event will undoubtedly be useful in essays which require you to identify Singapore’s beliefs and it global standing.


Royston, S. (2019), Singapore ‘clear, consistent’ in position that Malaysia has lost right to review water price under 1962 agreement, The Straits Times,

Channel NewsAsia (2019), Malaysia’s former PM Najib to go on trial for corruption.

Naidu, M. (2018), Exclusive: Price of water sold to Singapore ‘ridiculous’; Malaysia to renegotiate deal, says Mahathir, Channel NewsAsia,

John G. and Aradhana A. (2018), Water hazard: Malaysia’s belt-tightening resurrects age-old dispute with Singapore, Reuters,

Channel NewsAsia (2019), Singapore has been ‘clear and consistent’ that Malaysia has lost right to review the price of water: MFA,

Yasmine Y. (2018), Parliament: S’pore will honour 1962 Water Agreement and expects Malaysia to do the same, says Vivian Balakrishnan, The Straits Times,

The Straits Times (2017), Full speech: Five core principles of Singapore’s foreign policy,

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