In 1877, the major towns of the Straits Settlements-Singapore, George Town, Penang Island and Malacca-suffered a drought of exceptional magnitude. The drought's natural instigator was the El Niño phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation, a climatic phenomenon then not understood by contemporary observers. The 1877 event has been explored in some depth for countries including India, China and Australia. Its impact on Southeast Asia however is less well-known and the story of how the event unfolded in Singapore and Malaysia has not been told. This paper explores how the contemporary British government responded to the drought, arguing that its impact on hydraulic management was at best minimal yet, it did have impact on other areas, such as forest reservation with the hope of preserving future rainfall. It also highlights how, in contrast to studies on urban water plans in other British Asian colonies, the colonial authorities in the Straits Settlements had a far less coherent and meaningful relationship with water in their town planning schemes. As this paper is part of a special issue, Water History in the time of COVID-19, it has undergone modified peer review.
* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.