Burden and blessing for Singapore to be city in nature: Desmond Lee

NUHS Mind Science Centre chairman Cheong Choong Kong (left) with National Development Minister Desmond Lee during the launch of the centre's new book.
NUHS Mind Science Centre chairman Cheong Choong Kong (left) with National Development Minister Desmond Lee during the launch of the centre's new book.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - Like no other country, Singapore carries both the burden and the blessing of having greenery and nature reserves in the midst of one of the densest cities in the world.

This is why the Republic must continue protecting its green spaces, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee on Saturday (March 27).

And it's why the Government is pushing for a vision of a city-in-nature - not in spite of, but because of the greater developmental pressures of today.

Mr Lee was speaking at the launch of a book of essays by 20 prominent individuals aged 60 to 79, who were also participants in a Nature and Mindful Awareness Study (Namas) by the National University Health System's (NUHS) Mind Science Centre.

Namas is based on the idea that a mindful walk in greenery and nature can benefit mental, physical and social health.

And Mr Lee stressed on the need to protect nature so that Singapore's future generations can experience that thrill and spectacle of nature, even in a bustling city like ours.

He said: "Beyond the ecological explanations of connectivity and diversity, (it) is to enable Singaporeans to benefit from the therapeutic balm that nature offers to our minds, to our spirit, and to our being."

The 320-page book, titled Profiles in Resilience: Reflections in the Time of Covid-19, was edited by former Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi and mental health doyen Kua Ee Heok.

Writers include former Auditor-General Lim Soo Ping and ex-MP Hong Hai, with a foreword by Ambassador-At-Large Tommy Koh.

Ambassador-At-Large Tommy Koh speaking at the event at Goodwood Park Hotel on March 27, 2021. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Addressing a hybrid event of 50 in-person attendees at Goodwood Park Hotel and some 300 online viewers, Professor Koh noted that one challenge facing Singapore was how to reconcile the imperative of development with that of sustainability and protecting the environment.

Mr Lee acknowledged this and outlined the challenges in charting Singapore's land use as spanning the needs in housing, recreation, public health, active ageing, education and more.

Hence the need for continued conversations with Singaporeans on balancing these needs and ultimately, ensuring that the most precious biodiversity and habitats continue to thrive, he said.

40,000 calls for help

Mr Lee, who is also minister-in-charge of social services integration, also said the Government must continue to support the mental well-being of Singaporeans, especially with the Covid-19 pandemic taking an emotional and psychological toll on many.

He said the National Care Hotline has managed over 40,000 calls since it was set up by the health and social and family development ministries in April.

The hotline provides a listening ear to help Singaporeans cope with the stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic. Many of these calls resulted in follow-up action and interventions, said Mr Lee.

He also stressed the need to go beyond state-led efforts to have a much bigger impact.

He said: "The Government can bring people together and provide support and resources, but it is often the community itself that best understands what the real needs are on the ground, and how these can be addressed."

The Youth Mental Well-Being Network formed in February last year, for one thing, has attracted over 1,000 sign-ups from the community and members have come up with some 30 potential projects so far.

"All of us continue to grapple with an uncertain future," said Mr Lee. "We need to support each other to get through this difficult time."

• Profiles in Resilience: Reflections in the Time of Covid-19 is available at major bookstores at $40.