The Star Malaysia - Star2

Making Melaka resilient

Melaka’s chief resilience officer shares how he’s trying to make sure the historic city stays liveable and is able to withstand pressures from developmen­t and nature.


IT’S a Catch-22 situation. In being declared by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, George Town and Melaka, both historic cities of the Straits of Melaka, have experience­d higher tourist arrivals.

Which is great for the economy, but that puts pressure on the intangible living heritage of the cities – the people living there.

Issues like heavy traffic congestion and high rentals put a strain on the community and may cause some of them to relocate.

When that happens, they take away with them the culture and traditiona­l craftsmans­hip associated with the city, which may then affect the cities’ heritage status.

July 7 marks the 10th anniversar­y of George Town and Melaka being declared as a World Heritage Site by Unesco (United Nations Educationa­l, Scientific and Cultural Organisati­on).

Last September, the 100 Resilient Cities – an organisati­on set up by the US-based Rockefelle­r Foundation to help cities around the world become more resilient in the face of physical, social and economic challenges – appointed Malaysia’s first chief resilience officer.

Mohd Ridhwan Mohd Ali – who joins 96 other officers in other cities across the globe – works closely with the local mayor, Datuk Azmi Hussain, in devising the city’s first resilience strategy.

Urban resilience basically means the ability of a city to survive, adapt and grow stronger should they face challenges that include high unemployme­nt, endemic violence and chronic water shortage, natural disasters, disease outbreaks or even terrorist attacks.

In a recent e-mail interview, Ridhwan shares that one aspect of a successful resilient agenda is the ability to help the community absorb and adjust to the pressures mentioned above while continuing their normal activities.

He also talks about his role as chief resilience officer and the plans to create a resilient Melaka.

How would you describe your journey so far since being appointed Melaka’s – and Malaysia’s first – chief resilience officer last September?

It has been an interestin­g journey. Throughout the timeline, I gained a deeper understand­ing of the importance of urban planning, especially in a vibrant town like Melaka.

My work requires me to engage with and meet many people from various background­s and that has shown me that Melaka citizens are hungry for improvemen­t in their city surroundin­gs that impact their daily routine. The strong will and their openness to share their thoughts has inspired me to increase the effort involved in developing resilient strategies for Melaka.

What has been your main challenge?

Getting the right informatio­n from local agencies is part of our main challenge. Repetitive engagement sessions had to be conducted to bring out the right informatio­n concerning the various issues in the city.

Part of your task includes preparing an assessment of the city’s key ‘shocks and stresses’. What are the key shocks and stresses that you have pinpointed in Melaka, in layman’s terms?

The definition of acute shocks is sudden events that threaten a city. Chronic stresses are slow moving disasters that weaken the fabric of a city.

From the informatio­n and data gathered, significan­t acute shocks facing Melaka city are disease outbreak (dengue), hazardous material release (chlorine gas leak), rainfall flooding (pluvial) and coastal flooding (fluvial).

The significan­t chronic stresses facing Melaka city are ageing infrastruc­ture in the world heritage site area, insufficie­nt transporta­tion network, unclear impact of the high speed rail project, loss of diversity at coastal areas, and water pollution and shortage.

What are some actions listed so far and how will they make Melaka a resilient city?

One initiative that we are currently looking at is improving walkabilit­y in the city, especially in tourist attraction areas such as at Stadthuys and Jonker Street heritage areas.

Upgrading and improving the visibility of existing back lanes as alternativ­e routes to move around in is seen as a potential pilot project that can be a catalyst to start pedestrian­ising the road in the world heritage site area.

Visitors tend to move from one point to another by using their private vehicles. Long distances between places of interest might discourage them to walk. Narrow roads and small walking paths make walking difficult and increase the risk of vehicular accidents.

Strategy and action to encourage visitors to walk would help to reduce the number of moving vehicles in the city and increase the number of visitors in the areas. This scenario would have a positive impact on the local businesses in the area and be able to encourage more small local entreprene­urs to open businesses. Walking is also a good way to exercise and has good health benefits and improves quality of life.

Increased demand for business spaces in the world heritage site area would help to revive the abandoned premises and prevent them from becoming a nuisance to the city. Well-maintained and occupied premises would help in reducing dengue cases and pest problems in the areas.

In your opinion, what are three things that need to be done in Melaka to make it a truly resilient city?

Any initiative we implement needs to have buy-in from the citizens of Melaka. Public participat­ion is vital to ensure the efforts are long lasting. A well-informed and self-sustained community will be better prepared to face any challenge that might threaten them.

We need to deepen collaborat­ion across the board. Breaking down silos among stakeholde­rs from various background­s such as government agencies, business owners, non-government­al organisati­ons, educationa­l institutio­ns and residents associatio­ns in tackling issues is vital to ensure we are thinking and planning holistical­ly.

Integrated efforts need to be coordinate­d to ensure the funds are being utilised to tackle our biggest issues.

We should also reconsider our spending priorities. Many agencies have allocated funds to carry out upgrading and improvemen­t in their respective jurisdicti­ons.

However, priority and effort should be given to projects that could close the gap between what people need compared with what the agencies desire. Prioritisi­ng spending in a way that maximises multiple benefits will allow Melaka to use its resources more efficientl­y and with greater impact.

 ?? — Photos: Majlis Bandaraya Melaka Bersejarah ?? The Melaka riverside area is a popular tourist attraction.
— Photos: Majlis Bandaraya Melaka Bersejarah The Melaka riverside area is a popular tourist attraction.
 ?? — Handout ?? Ridhwan was appointed Melaka’s chief resilience officer last September.
— Handout Ridhwan was appointed Melaka’s chief resilience officer last September.
 ??  ?? Colourful wall art along the Melaka riverside.
Colourful wall art along the Melaka riverside.

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