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Urbanisation proceeding on unprecedented scale: PM

People must be given high-quality environment to live, work, play, he adds

[SINGAPORE] The numbers are telling. In the last two years alone, more than 100 million people around the world have migrated to cities, and it is estimated that 70 per cent of the global population will live in cities by 2050.

Cities have continued to grow in importance with each passing year, and urbanisation is proceeding on an "unprecedented scale", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the combined opening ceremonies of three major global events last night.

These were the Singapore International Water Week, World Cities Summit and the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore.

"Cities are driving economic growth and creating new hubs for talent and innovation. Cities are also pioneering solutions for the world's problems, such as climate change, public health or green technology," he said during the ceremony held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

Mr Lee noted how, at the same time, new challenges have emerged. Climate change, for instance, has caused unpredictable extreme weather, with Cairo seeing its first snowfall after a century, while London has had to deal with flooding.

"We must continue to improve our cities and give our people a high-quality environment to live, work and play," he told his audience that included city experts and government officials from all over the world.

On its part, the Singapore government is doing its best to develop the country as both a liveable and sustainable city, such as by managing the consumption of energy and water and pricing these scarce resources properly so that people are incentivised to save and not waste them.

The government, said Mr Lee, has taken a long-term view by planning over generations, implementing programmes over several election terms, and rallying Singaporeans to forgo some immediate gains for future dividends.

He cited the example of the Marina Bay area, which was "once the mouth of a dirty river, dotted with pollutive industries and slums, (but is) now a jewel in our cityscape, a place all of us are very proud of".

The prime minister noted that while the government's efforts so far have gained Singapore recognition in international rankings, the journey to improve the country is one that will never end.

This is because the expectations of Singaporeans are rising, and other cities, too, are continuing to move ahead, developing innovative solutions and setting new standards.

Singapore is learning from the lessons elsewhere in order to make the country a better home, be it by providing affordable housing and more reliable public transport, or adding more green spaces into the urban areas or strengthening social capital.

The government is studying the experiences of other cities, such as London's public transport system and Copenhagen's downtown parks.

In his speech, Mr Lee also hailed this year's two Lee Kuan Yew prize winners as good examples of what successful cities can achieve.

The Chinese city of Suzhou, winner of the World City Prize, has built a good partnership with Singapore to develop the Suzhou Industrial Park, which has helped develop a thriving economy while protecting the city's cultural landmarks.

And Orange County Water District from California in the United States, which bagged the Water Prize, has seen its pioneering groundwater recharge and water re-use schemes adapted throughout the world, including in Singapore when the country embarked on its NEWater programme.

Both winners will receive their awards at a dinner graced by President Tony Tan Keng Yam later today.

The last Singapore International Water Week in 2012 saw a record $13.6 billion in announcements worth of deals, tenders and investments.

About 20,000 delegates are expected to attend this year, close to the number that attended two years ago.