The rise of sea levels due to global warming directly imperils countries like Singapore, prompting urgent efforts to safeguard their coastal territories. Recent climate change studies for Singapore indicate that existing infrastructure may no longer provide effective protection against future high-intensity rainfall and the projected sea level rise of 1.15 metres by 2100 (Ting, 2024).

With around a third of Singapore lying less than 16 feet above sea level, the threat of flooding looms large, potentially causing detrimental financial losses, particularly in areas of high-value real estate such as the Marina Bay waterfront. 


To address this pressing issue, the Singapore Government has turned to the Dutch polder system for inspiration, embarking on a project on Pulau Tekong, an island situated in the northeast of Singapore. The empoldering method involves building a dike around the area to be reclaimed and draining water from it, creating a low-lying tract of land below sea level.  


In 2017, Surbana Jurong (SJ), SMEC’s sister company based in Singapore, was commissioned by the Housing Development Board (HDB) to be a consultant for the Pulau Tekong reclamation project. This iconic project marks the first implementation of a polder development for SJ and Singapore in a tropical climate. Collaborating with Royal Haskoning DHV, SJ provided comprehensive planning and detailed engineering design for the polder development at Pulau Tekong, effectively adding new land equivalent to two Toa Payoh towns for military training purposes. James Lam, SJ’s Coastal Engineering & Management Executive Director emphasised:

“Polder Development at Pulau Tekong, Singapore, allows the concept of living below water level to be piloted. With the threat of rising sea level, this concept maybe a solution that can be carried out in scale. The team has to overcome various engineering challenges and work on a new concept for polder water management. This project is a testament to our resolve to create resilient and sustainable solution in the face of this global climate challenge.” 

Additionally, the scope of services also consists of construction supervision, project management, civil and structural engineering, mechanical and electrical engineering, quantity surveying, architectural services, and environmental monitoring and management which are ongoing.  Muthusamy Karthikeyan, SJ’s Director of Coastal Engineering explained:

“As the Project Manager for the Polder Project in Pulau Tekong, Singapore, I am deeply aware of the significance of our mission. This project is not just a testament to Surbana Jurong’s engineering prowess, but also our commitment to sustainability and resilience in the face of climate change. Working hand-in-hand with HDB, we are not just constructing a polder, but a beacon of hope for future generations. We are eager to rise to this challenge and contribute to a sustainable future for Singapore and the world.” 

As there is a short supply in sand around the world, the polder innovation will see a reduction of reliance on sand and other infill materials used, thus lowering the cost of reclamation and minimise construction delays. This system, as a result, will offer more flexibility to adapt to the evolving coastal environment and sea level rise. The successful delivery of the Pulau Tekong reclamation project will be a test and learn for the future application of this polder system in larger Singapore context. The project is ongoing with an aim to be completed by the end of 2024.   


Ting, K. W. (2024, January 5). Singapore’s mean sea level may rise by up to 1.15m by 2100, exceeding previous estimates. CNA.,Singapore%27s%20mean%20sea%20level%20may%20rise%20by%20up%20to%201.15,scenario%20of%20low%20carbon%20emissions.