The Population Debate: What are we bequeathing to our children?
By Dr Wong Wee Nam
04 February 2013
If a target of 6.9 million people is what the government hopes to achieve, it is not an exaggeration to say that in 2030, Singapore will become a marketplace where sojourners come when the times are good to ply their trade and make their money. But it will no longer be a home where citizens live and strive to develop it into a better place for their children. With all the over-crowding and Singaporeans becoming an obvious minority in their own country, there will not be many true-blooded Singaporeans left who are willing to die for their country and defend it against all external threats. It will no longer be a home. It will no longer be a country. It will just become purely a business centre.
In the recently published Population White Paper, one of the pillars for a sustainable population for a dynamic Singapore is for Singaporeans to form the core and heart of Singapore. It is argued that by increasing the fertility rate and importing immigrants in large numbers, we will be able to the achieve this. Unfortunately, this is not so.
Whether Singaporeans can form the core and heart of Singapore depends on whether Singapore continues to remain a home and a country for its citizens.
A country is a place where a person can grow up, a place which provides him with an opportunity to work so that he can provide for his family. It is a community which can support him emotionally, socially and provide a sense of culture. In return, it makes him feel enough love and obligation to his community, his country and his fellow men to want to do something for his nation and defend it.
Thus, what is needed for a strong society is the spirit of community and the desire of its members to be part of the community.
Generally, Singaporeans who have lived and grown up in this country and performed national service duties have no problem having this feeling of community. They have been conditioned since young to queue, to live with other races and not to litter. We speak Singlish and enjoy curry, durian, teh tarik and rojak.
We cannot build a core of Singaporeans with a heart when new immigrants flock into Singapore in large numbers. When foreigners come in large numbers, they find security in their own community. This makes it harder for them to assimilate and become part of the larger Singapore community. It is even more difficult when, with modern technology and communications, they are still connected by easy travels, internet, and cable TV to the motherland from where they had come.
Instead of one people, one country, we will end up with having many people, many countries.
It makes matter worse when these people are seen as competitors for jobs and housing.
Do We Need 6.9 Million People?
Dr. John B. Calhoun, an ecologist who had studied rats in an overpopulated situation, found that over-crowding is not a good thing for those rodents. He demonstrated that as the population density increased, social behaviour degenerated. The rats suffered from infectious diseases, some became violent (and even form gangs), whilst most became withdrawn and passive. Some mounted male and female rats indiscriminately.
In an increasingly crowded environment rats are incapable of the social behaviour that would allow them to produce the next generation. Our own drop in fertility should be a sign that we are getting over-crowded and we should decrease our population instead of increasing it.
Though rats are not human beings, the biological needs for space and resources in both human and rat behaviours are the same in influencing behaviours in both species.
What then should citizens expect when Singapore becomes over-populated? We must expect noise levels to be increased, more traffic congestion and more pollution from smoke emissions and waste. Singaporeans must put up with having to manoeuvre through crowds in public areas, long queues for a lot of services and the squeeze on public transport. There will be very little space for fun and recreation as all these places will be packed during the weekends. Trying to get across the Causeway during the weekends and going to the airport will take much more time than now.
When there is over-crowding, people become more susceptible to catching and spreading diseases. With more people travelling and immigrants going and coming back from their countries of origin, new bugs are likely to be introduced into the country.
Moreover, the control of an outbreak of infectious diseases in a dense population will be harder to manage.
Over-crowding also reduces fertility and causes stress-related diseases like ulcers, enlarged adrenals, chronic heart disease and mental illness.
On the social side, there will be higher rates of crime, drug abuse, suicides, accidents and juvenile delinquency.
As Singaporeans, it is our right to want a quality of life. We certainly do not want our country to be “an environment without natural or cultural resources: people who do without pure air, who do without sound sleep, who do without a cheerful garden or playing space, who do without the very sight of sky and the sunlight, who do without free motion, spontaneous play, or a robust sexual life.” This is what is described by Lewis Mumford in his book, The Culture of Cities. The sad part is, as he said “you may live and die without even recognising the loss.”
We don’t want to live like over-crowded and stressful rats.
Our children used to have empty fields to kick a ball around. As more and more developments take place, such spaces are getting lesser and lesser. As the population grows to 7 million, there will be pressure to use up such green spaces to build roads, dwellings, industrial sites and other infrastructure.
Singapore used to have one of the best beaches in the world. The senior citizens now would remember places like Changi Point, Mata Ikan, Labrador, Coney Island, Sister’s Islands, Pulau Blakang Mati, etc, where they could go for quiet picnics, BBQs and fishing. Later, much land was reclaimed and East Coast Park and West Coast Park were developed. Pulau Blakang Mati became Sentosa. However, as more and more people come into Singapore, these places have stopped being idyllic and are now venues of over-crowded mass gatherings. What was optimum for a population of 4 million will have to cater for 7 to 10 million in the future.
Labrador Park is smaller than what it used to be. Many of the flora and fauna that used to thrive there no longer exist. The marine life that used to be so diverse can now only be seen on old Singapore stamps.
In the case of Chek Jawa, we have see how hard the environmentalists and naturalists have fought to get a stay of execution. For how long, we don’t know because, like Bukit Brown, it can come very suddenly. Similarly let us wait and see what happens to the green corridor that was once the old Malayan Railway track when we have a population of 6.9 million. The whole of Singapore used to be considered over-crowded when we had 2 million people and married couples had to stop at 2. Even with the best of planning can we really say we would not feel over-crowding with another 4.9 million?
A bedroom with an attached bathroom is sufficient for two persons. There is no problem accommodating six persons by using three bunk-beds. The problem comes only when the people start to use the facilities at one go. There will be queues to use the bathroom and enough critical mass of people to dirty the toilet. There will be high maintenance costs for the facilities and there will be poor quality of air in the room. Finally when someone gets the flu, everyone gets it. This is the microcosm of an over-crowded city.
The senior citizens will remember the times when they had many choices of secluded places to camp over night. What space would our children have with 7 to 10 million people on the island?
Open spaces can be used for active recreation like sports or it could just a quiet place where a person just wants to get away from the urban environment. Ideally there should be a park space of 16 square miles for 1 million people. With 6.9 million people, we need half of Singapore to provide that. With the money to be made from building residential and commercial properties and the need to acquire land for more roads, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure, it is not possible to keep half of the island for this. Every little green corner will be greedily swallowed to build a small residential unit or converted into a carpark. In doing so we are also destroying the pockets of nature that can promote biodiversity and provide a home for natural life.
Dr Howard Rusk, an authority on Human Rehabilitation, said, “Recreation is more than just having fun. It is fundamental to physical and mental well-being.” It is not just good for the development of children. It is also found to keep old people from visiting their doctors often. More importantly, the memory of places where a person used to enjoy will attach the person to the country he grew up in.