‘Living spaces must truly be liveable’

Playgrounds, classrooms, and fields – minus children and their laughter – were a common sight in most parts of 2020 and 2021, in Malaysia and the rest of the world.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced governments across the globe to impose strict lockdown measures. This included making sure people stayed indoors for weeks, or even months, on end.

Work and studying from home became the norm. The affluent kept themselves busy, sprucing up their homes in search of the perfect background for their numerous video conferencing sessions.

The urban poor, especially those living in People’s Housing Programmes flats that are less than 700sq ft per unit in size, faced multiple challenges.

Unicef, in a November 2020 report titled ‘Understanding the Impact of Covid-19 on Vulnerable Children and Families in Malaysia’, highlighted the various issues faced by the underserved.

They ranged from not having enough gadgets for online classes or work, to poor internet connectivity, domestic abuse, sexual assaults, mental health issues, and not having the space, and the freedom, to play.

The report also listed several recommendations to guide policymakers and social service workers, should similar pandemics arise in the future.

Malaysia’s Housing and Local Government Minister, Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican, believes that living spaces must truly be liveable.

“The Covid-19 pandemic opened our eyes and revealed cracks, inefficiencies, and vulnerabilities inherent in our societies,” said Reezal Merican.

“As nations locked their borders, and movements between cities were curtailed, people were confined to limited spaces. This resulted in a surge of mental health issues.”

He said the World Health Organisation revealed that there was a “25 per cent increase in anxiety and depression-related cases worldwide”, at the height of the pandemic.

“We need to ensure our homes are suitable for stay, work, and play,” Reezal Merican added.

“Homes must also be easily accessible to public health facilities, with a well-connected public transportation infrastructure, with adequate green, and open spaces, and have good internet connectivity.”

Reezal Merican said this in his keynote address at the 11th Session of the World Urban Forum in Katowice, Poland, on June 27. The forum, which attracted ministers, ranking government officials, policymakers, and experts, ends tomorrow.

Malaysia is represented by a delegation of more than 200 participants from 50 government agencies at various levels, universities, the private sector, professionals, and civil society organisations.

Reezal Merican described the forum as an ideal platform for discourse, knowledge-sharing, and the exchange of ideas and best practices.

“We look forward to the conversations and insights here, in our pursuit of a sustainable and liveable environment for our communities, post-pandemic.”

Reezal Merican also shared the Malaysian government’s plans in implementing sustainable agendas for the wellbeing of the nation’s 25 million urban population.

He also highlighted that the Town and Country Planning Department, better known as PLANMalaysia, has developed the Malaysia Liveability Index to gauge the effectiveness of the measures in making Malaysia more liveable.

The core aspirations of the index included the development of a prosperous and future-proof economy, community harmony and family wellbeing, efficient urban governance, and inclusive facilities.

“The Malaysia Liveability Index, or better known as iDAM, will help cities benchmark their levels of wellbeing, quality of life, and liveability at every level,” Reezal Merican added.

“We are determined to see equitable growth and increased resilience. We will have to strike a balance between urban expansion and environmental sustainability and inclusivity in our quest.”

The local authorities of Kuala Lumpur, Shah Alam, Subang Jaya, and Sepang, were among the Malaysian cities that had showcased their Sustainable Development Goals City Reports and Voluntary Local Reviews at the Malaysia Pavilion, which was part of the forum.