Theme: Blue and Green Theme: Red Theme: Green
Official Launching of Urban Thinkers Campus Official Launching of Urban Thinkers Campus

Assalamualaikum, Salam Sejahtera and Good Evening

Salutation  


Let me first and foremost, thank GOD the Almighty, for his graciousness in allowing us to convene here this evening, for the official launching of the Urban Thinkers Campus in Kuching, the only one of the 28 Urban Thinkers Campuses around the world, focusing on Health and Wellbeing.


I would like to thank the United Nation University (UNU), for inviting me to grace this occasion. Congratulations for this initiative to have this campus here in Kuching. As you all know, Health and Wellbeing has always been subjects of importance especially to cities that have undergone tremendous growth. I am glad that the moderators and participants from all parts of the world are able to converge here for these three days sessions.


I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome all foreign delegates, who have come all the way to participate in this campus. It is heartening to note that there will be such a diversity in participants, from 27 Nations – maybe I could ask you to stand up as I call out the continents - Australia & Islands (14); Europe (14); North America (8); South America (1); Africa (7); Asia (113) – Central Asia (1); Western Asia (1); Southern Asia (6); Eastern Asia (3); South East Asia excl. Malaysia (7) West Malaysia (95) and Sarawak (35). May I say “Selamat Datang” or Welcome to Sarawak, the Land of the Hornbills and I hope all of you will enjoy your stay here. 


The strength of the Urban Thinkers Campus is that it brings together diverse urban actors. We have here, members of the civil societies, local authorities, professionals, academicians, youth and more. I suppose you have made the journey to Sarawak because you believe that health and wellbeing is crucial for urban development and you want to make your voice heard.


This event is different to the usual conferences. Here, everyone will be expected to speak and contribute in the discussion, bringing in your experience and expertise in the various fields. In other words, the success of this event is highly dependent on your active participation and involvement during the discussion and debate for solutions in the various aspects of health and wellbeing. I understand, the outcome of the next three days will be the Kuching Agenda, which incorporates all of your recommendations that will feed into the UN Habitat III preparatory process.


URBAN ISSUE

Globally, over half of the population lives in cities and here in Malaysia, it is almost 70%, one of the highest rates in East Asia, even if it may not feel that way, as our country is not as densely populated as our neighbors. Worldwide, urban dwellers will double in numbers over the next few decades. By then, around 75% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. In over half of these urban areas, the built environment that is needed to accommodate this increase in population, has not yet been built. When we think about urbanization, we often think about the megacities of this world, but most growth will actually happen in the small to medium sized places, like the size of Kuching for example.


I am not a health expert but there are plenty of stories from around the world that tell us on how cities can make its residents unwell; whether it is unclean water, diseases that spread amongst people living close together, pollution, depression, violence or physical inactivity.  But we do also read in the media, positive stories about making cities more walkable, with more parks and better services. Over the next three days, YOU will be discussing these issues and to develop recommendations for new and growing cities of the futures – especially on how can they develop learning from the past and create ways for the future where development, environment and wellbeing of its people go hand in hand.


The venue for the Urban Thinkers Campus is our State Library. It reflects many of the principles a city needs or should have. It is a well-used public space by everyone and it is not just for studying. Almost every weekend the place is open for wedding functions. During the week, there will be exercise classes and any of you, while you are there, are welcome to go for a walk around the lake and the lush green parkland.


KUCHING AND ITS CHALLENGES


Kuching is a city built from a humble beginning of a small trading settlement. It has, through the passage of time, evolved into a modern metropolis with a beauty of its own. It is the capital of Sarawak, the largest state in Malaysia and it is a growing and vibrant city. With an area of approximately 2,030 square kilometres, Kuching (Greater Kuching – incorporating Kuching North, Kuching South, Padawan, and part of Samarahan) has a population of about 800,000 people and is one of the major cities in Malaysia.  Kuching was declared as a city on 1st August 1988.


With an increased population of educated residents, who have growing expectations, high demands, greater connectivity and more knowledge on their rights, Kuching is now faced with this urban challenge on how to enhance and sustain the physical environmental condition of the city. Like any other urban centres, Kuching faces liveability issues and challenges which can be categorized into seven livability issues and challenges covering Public Transportation, Kuching - River of Life, Flood Mitigation, Solid Waste Management, Wastewater Management and Crime.


On Public Transportation, the challenge faced is on how to mitigate traffic congestion. Today, most urban people prefer cars and in Kuching, the vehicle ownership rate is 1.4 cars per household. This has driven a large increase in private vehicles. Consequently, traffic congestion has become increasingly critical. The roads are no more enough nor are conducive and public complaints are increasing. In our long term planning, efforts are being carried out to improve the infrastructures for bus right-of-ways and its network which includes its integration.


In Kuching, the river is the lifeline and soul of Kuching. The challenge now is on how to reconnect the Sarawak River with the Soul of the City. Realizing the fact that the river has lots of potential for development as another mode of transportation, and the waterfronts as alternative routes for bicycles and pedestrian walkways, also as an avenue for human interaction and activities, the river has to be included in the long term urban and metropolitan planning. In other words, development should not side-line the river.


Water pollution is the next challenging issue in Kuching. Usually it occurs due to the draining of wastewater i.e. sewage and sullage, and floating waste into the river. Presently in Kuching, the development of the Kuching Centralized Sewerage System is on-going, whilst floating waste is continuously collected to reduce pollution of the river. Additionally, we have also implemented Waste Reduction programmes such as the 3R campaign, reducing waste at source like composting and others. Regional/seasonal and flash flood is another challenge and it usually happens due to the overflow of Sarawak River, heavy downpour and also due to poor drainage condition and blockages. All these have to be taken into consideration in our urban planning, may it be for long or short term planning.


 

Next is crime. Like any other urban cities, crime is of concern in Kuching. Efforts are being enhanced under the National Key Result Areas to reduce the city’s crime index. This includes involving the community in the implementation of the safe city programmes. 


The final challenge is of course a balanced-development and sustainability that meets the needs of the present urban population and at the same time not compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This includes economic, social and environmental sustainability. In our urban and metropolitan long term planning, it is of utmost importance that control measures and mechanisms are emplaced to ensure that this final challenge is addressed.


In our planning and development, we don’t aspire to have a big city of Kuching. In fact the model of development for Sarawak is to develop smaller towns except for Kuching as its biggest city. This is to ensure that we do not fall victims to rapid urbanization that tend to create a lot of problems. 


Kuching has a Vision – to make Kuching a City with a Soul ….a People’s City – a city that is not only socially and economically vibrant and radiant, attractive, colorful and dynamic, but also the people are lively, engaged and healthy. In reviving a city with a soul, developing the community and raising the level of public health and keeping good environment for the neighbourhood in and around the city are important areas to focus. Positive changes must be brought down to the residents in order to make them realise that it is also their responsibility to make the city a happy place for themselves and children. There is no point for a city to be rich but if the society is not united and happy especially the younger generation, then we can say that the city does not have the soul. Always remember that if the soul of a city is intact, there is likelihood that the city will thrive.

 

 

ALLIANCE FOR HEALTHY CITIES 


Since 1994, Kuching had been involved in the Alliance for Healthy Cities, which was initiated by the World Health Organization. This Healthy City Project is an international movement first started in the European countries with its understanding that a Healthy City is “one that is continually creating and improving those physical and social environment and expanding those community resources which enable people to mutually support each other in performing all the functions of life and in developing to their maximum potential” (Duhl and Hancock, 1986). In other words, the participation and inclusiveness of the community in the city’s planning and development are not only vital to create a sustainable urban environment for future generation but also fundamental to instil the sense of belonging and ownership amongst the people. Every citizen should play a crucial role in making a city vibrant, sustainable and liveable, alive with soul and vigour. Obviously, the process of socialization must be encouraged in order to strengthen the links that can help a city to grow and have its own soul among the people.


The current practice where the city administrators alone plan, implement and review programs on those issues is no longer relevant as the city modernizes and grows. Challenges brought about by urbanization are becoming more obvious and at times threatening to the existence of city organization.


When the Global Health Institute of UN University approached me to seek support for this event, I could see that Kuching would be an ideal location for the Urban Thinkers Campus. This is not just because Kuching is a WHO Healthy City, but seven months ago it was declared as the world’s first City of Unity.


CITY OF UNITY

This declaration was initiated by the 1 Malaysia Foundation or Yayasan 1 Malaysia. Kuching is known to be a potpourri, a fusion of all ethnics with different demography and backgrounds. In Sarawak, we have about 32 different ethnics; the 3 main ones being the Malays, Chinese and Dayaks with different cultures and traditions. There are also differences in religions, with Islam, Christianity and Buddhism as the 3 main religion. There is a real mixture of multi-culturalism and multi-ethnic socio-cultural interactions and there is a high acceptance of cultural diversity - inter-racial marriages and families in one home with different religious affiliations are common.
In other words, differentiation between the diverse races is a norm and true harmony and unity can be clearly shown when there are Chinese temples, churches and mosques in Malay villages. Respect, understanding and mutual tolerance helps us maintain unity in Kuching. And we call this UNITY IN DIVERSITY. Since independence, unity and harmony has been a prominent way of life in Kuching, which we believe should be celebrated and preserved, for now and the future, not just for Kuching and Sarawak, but for Malaysia as a whole.
 

CONCLUSION

To conclude, once again, I wish to congratulate the organizers and the organizing committee for successfully organizing this campus. I would also like to thank all the moderators who have willingly come from afar to present their knowledge, experiences and achievements in this campus. To all participants, enjoy this 3 days intellectual discourse on this important topic; and to seek to influence the UN’s conference on housing and sustainable development Habitat III for a stronger focus on health and wellbeing. I hoped everybody will have an enjoyable and memorable stay here in our fascinating Kuching city or even Sarawak. To those of you, who have literally crossed skies and oceans to be here today, do find time to visit our lovely Kuching city, its people and nature and take some time to explore the places outside the city and enjoy our hospitality. I would like to thank the Mayor of Kuching North and the team of organisers who put a lot of work in preparing for this Urban Thinkers Campus session and may your effort bring benefit to us all too in Kuching.


With these words, I now have the pleasure to declare open the Urban Thinkers Campus in Kuching.