Oh rats!

Singapore has long been regarded as a clean and green city, but recently the name certainly hasn’t quite lived up to its reputation. Just ask the residents in Tiong Bahru who have had to deal with some nasty, unwanted visitors over the last six months – and they are not just your run of the mill void deck cockroaches. We’re talking about rats intruding the homes and shops of those in the Tanjong Pagar GRC!


It is one thing to spot a couple of rats scurrying around looking for leftover scraps in the middle of the night on occasional instances, but having to live with them on a daily basis in broad daylight, with some running into where you sleep and work?

In an interview with The Straits Times, Madam Yee Kwai Wing shared that she sees two or three rats outside her flat at Eng Watt Street almost every day.

Not only is this unhygienic for the neighbourhood at large, rats are also carriers of diseases that can be easily transmitted to humans. According to a report published by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, rodents have the potential to spread diseases like rat bite fever, salmonellosis (eating or drinking food or water contaminated with rats’ feces and leptospirosis (eating food, drinking water or having skin/mucous membranes contact with contaminated with urine from infected animals).

Remember the Black Death that killed some 25 million people in Europe in the 14th century? Rats were responsible for that too because they host rat fleas that transmit plague.

Not that I want to paint such a morbid picture and exaggerate the consequences, but my point being: these risks exist, and we need to make sure that the environment is as hygienic as possible for all.

Some might argue that the residents are making a mountain out of a molehill. True, all major global cities have thousands and thousands of rats, rodents, and other insects living in sewers and underground passageways.

Paris and New York, for instance, have well-documented rat populations living off the scraps of the great food you can have in those cities. So much so that getting rid of the infestation has become a key priority for any government official looking to get elected in those cities!

So why is this such a big deal in Singapore?

Well, for starters, the rats are no longer confined to their underground burrows; not only are they brazingly making daytime appearances, they also seem unfazed by humans’ presence.

This is a particularly worrying trend, especially when the National Environment Agency (NEA) located multiple rat burrows over the course of the past three weeks in common areas of the estate.

The problem is not just contained to Tiong Bahru. Earlier in July, it was reported that more than 10 rodents’ nests were found in the Bukit Merah estate, which is also under the Tanjong Pagar Town Council (TPTC).

And it certainly seems as though this pest-y issue is not an isolated incident. Previously in 2009, a number of blocks at Redhill Road were facing similar rodent problems.

The root of the issue? Poor refuse management – meaning food scrapes were lying around – which led to the increased presence of rats.

According to the statement of response from NEA alluding to this issue, it had served an Order under the Control of Vectors and Pesticides Act, requiring TPTC to take the necessary measures to suppress the rodent population.

Similarly in Tiong Bahru, residents like Minimart owner Rodney Goh have attributed the problem to the lack of a centralised rubbish chute system at the estate, making individual rubbish bins lined at the back of the blocks a scrumptious all-you-can-eat buffet for neighbourhood.

Netizens have also pointed out that the increase in dining places in the estate could have contributed to the problem:


While most of us would naturally point fingers to NEA to resolve this issue (they are after all in charge of our environment), TPTC should also step up its game to ensure that it is taking a more active approach in maintaining thorough and effective hygiene conditions the estate.

The first step is to multiply inspections on nearby restaurants and cafes and with residents to make sure they are adopting appropriate waste disposal methods.

From a longer term perspective, educating both the residents and eateries in the area will also be key to make sure the extermination is both viable and durable.

All residents and operators have a responsibility in making sure that all rubbish is tightly and securely contained in bins, as it’s clear that plastic bags alone are not a good deterrent; wherever there’s food, rats are bound to be nearby.

Once we manage to successfully eliminate the source of sustenance for these pests, we are sure to see their population dwindle.

TPTC and/or NEA could take things further and look at implementing fines on any parties found with poor waste management or hygiene lapses. It seems harsh, but it will certainly be an effective way to keep the rodents at bay.

After all, shouldn’t residents be able to live, work, and play without the fear of stepping on anyone’s (or in this case anything’s) tails?

It should not be left just to the related agencies or government entities to clean up after our mess – keeping our estate clean and hygienic is the least we can do to ensure a comfortable environment for everyone!

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