A public duty to keep cities clean

IF possible, everyone wants to live in a clean city, breathing in fresh and smoke-free air. Besides, clean and healthy urban living decreases the chances of contracting infectious diseases.

A month ago, my column mentioned that Ipoh City Council had done a good job in maintaining cleanliness. However, compared with many other countries, Malaysian towns and cities are still not considered clean.

There is still a dire need for Malaysians and the local authorities to make all human settlements, irrespective of big or small, clean and healthy.

As such, it is useful for Malaysians to pay attention to the cleanest cities in the world and the reasons behind their success.

One can find various lists of clean city rankings these days. One list, cited in The Guardian, lists the 10 cleanest cities in 2017 as follows: 10. Freiburg (Germany), 9. Oslo (Norway), 8. Helsinki (Finland), 7. Wellington (New Zealand), 6. Copenhagen (Denmark), 5. Kobe (Japan), 4. Minneapolis (US), 3. Honolulu (US), 2. Adelaide (Australia) and 1. Calgary (Canada).

According to another ranking provided by the World's Top 10 List website, the top 10 cleanest cities in 2017 are: 10. Bern (Switzerland), 9. Oslo (Norway), 8. Freiburg (Germany), 7. Brisbane (Australia), 6. Kobe (Japan), 5. Stockholm (Sweden), 4. Singapore (Singapore), 3. Adelaide (Australia), 2. Luxembourg City (Luxembourg) and 1. Calgary (Canada).

From the two lists above it is useful to note that there are five cities appearing twice. They are Freiburg, Oslo, Kobe, Adelaide and Calgary. The cities are primarily those from western and northern Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Beside Kobe in Japan and Singapore, no other city from Asia appears on either list.

Calgary maintains its status as the cleanest city in the world from the two lists above. Located in the Canadian Province of Alberta, the city is well known for having numerous parks for public usage and recreation. It has also placed emphasis on pedestrians and cyclists with the development of a series of pedestrian bridges connecting the many downtown buildings.

The study cited in The Guardian also provides five hygiene-based factors for its ranking. They include clean drinking water availability, quality waste management and sewage systems, reducing air pollution and traffic congestion.

Furthermore, one might elaborate on this by observing that many of the cities featured in the lists also offer orderly traffic management of pedestrians and cyclists and other public transport modes including mass rapid transit and trains, methods of collecting and processing household items for recycling, and accessible and well-maintained parks and public spaces in city centres.

It is interesting to note Singapore is fourth in one of the lists. Even to casual observers, it is clear that Singapore is very clean. Most tourist guides of Singapore also focus on its cleanliness and orderliness.

What is important to note is that the residents in Singapore are of similar historical and cultural background to those in Malaysia. We were part of the same country at one time!

Yet those living in Singapore seem to be able to abide by the laws while those in Malaysia seem to be unable to do so. Why is this?

Singapore has placed emphasis on two factors in the list, water quality and waste management. The city has built an extensive water system to make sure that there is sufficient water collected in its reservoirs. It has also built high-tech water treatment and recycling systems. The city even treats its sewage water to such a degree that one can drink it.

On the waste management side, Singapore's efforts include stringent laws against offenders, including heavy fines for littering and even harsher punishments for vandalism.

We do not have to copy other cities in order to make our own cities better. We have our own cultural attractions and social expectations. Hence, we can always improve ourselves.

The local authorities must enforce the existing municipal rules and regulations strictly, starting from the officers, appointed councillors and presidents or mayors. All must follow the laws. Any residents of any towns and cities found not obeying municipal rules and regulations must be punished accordingly.

Residents too must be committed in putting a conscious effort to attaining a clean and hygienic environment with high environmental standards. Every now and then, the local authorities, together with NGOs are encouraged to hold seminars and workshops to educate the public on keeping the cities clean.

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban planning, housing and governance. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com