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Asia

Smog Scares Away Hong Kongers

Hong Kong is a well-known international financial centre. As living standards are high, the former British colony also attracts foreigners. In recent years, however, worrying environmental issues have emerged due to the fast growing industrial production in the Pearl River Delta region. Air pollution is becoming more and more of a public health threat and some Hong Kong residents are considering leaving.

Some residents are considering leaving Hong Kong because of the air pollution

Some residents are considering leaving Hong Kong because of the air pollution

“Some days, the air is really bad and you really feel uncomfortable. It is so difficult to breathe and I avoid going out to crowded areas on the very bad days. If I must go out, I use paper masks,” says Yip Fong.

More and more, Hong Kong residents like her are suffering from the ever-increasing air pollution in their city.

A recent survey by Civic Exchange -- one of Hong Kong’s leading think tanks -- showed that many residents were even considering leaving.

“The propensity of thinking about relocating rises according to education and income. Of course, it does not actually mean that many, many people would actually leave Hong Kong, but it does show that the level of tolerance of the high air pollution is beginning to hit a level that is clearly bothering people to the extent that they would even think of leaving,” explained Civic Exchange CEO Christine Loh.

Various sources of emissions

Apart from industrial air pollution caused by the factories of the Pearl River Delta across the border, Hong Kong’s coal and oil-burning power plants, which produce two-thirds of the city’s energy, are a major source of harmful emissions.

However, experts say the greatest threat to public health comes from the diesel emissions caused by road traffic and the shipping industry.

Mok Wai-Chuen is the assistant director of Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department in Hong Kong. He described what measures the authorities are taking to reduce emissions: “We have been tightening the vehicle emission standards for new vehicles and the standard for motor vehicle fuels at the same pace as the EU.”

“We require old vehicles to be retro-fitted with emission reduction devices. In the regional context, both Hong Kong and Guangdong are now working to reduce emissions. We believe that we can bring significant improvement to the air quality in Hong Kong.”

Civil society initiatives growing

But Hong Kong’s population is not entirely satisfied. “People are not only asking the government to do more. They are also saying that civil society needs to do more. I expect to see more people getting organised -- civil society getting organised -- to promote air pollution control.”

According to Civic Exchange’s report, 500,000 residents are currently seriously thinking of leaving Hong Kong. This is more than those who reportedly considered leaving prior to the handover of the former British colony to China in 1997.

However, experts say Hong Kong simply cannot afford to lose highly-skilled professionals and at the same time fail to attract top talent from elsewhere. Therefore, they are urging the authorities to act fast to combat the growing problem of air pollution.

  • Date 26.01.2009
  • Author Chi-Viet Giang 26/01/09
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsJu
  • Date 26.01.2009
  • Author Chi-Viet Giang 26/01/09
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsJu