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Economic Prosperity, Air Quality and Health in Hong Kong

Posted on Jun 17, 2008 by Sergio Ulloa ()

A recent study by Civic Exchange, a Hong Kong-based think tank, estimates that poor air quality is accountable for nearly 10,000 deaths a year in Hong Kong.  Furthermore, pollution costs the city billions of Yuan each year in loss of productivity, sickness, pressure on medical beds and premature death.  With findings like these, air pollution can no longer be viewed as only a nuisance.  In fact, air pollution in Hong Kong is approaching a health care crisis with huge public health and public spending implications. On most days in Hong Kong, the air quality is so poor that views of such landmarks as Victoria Harbor, Central's skyline and The Peak are hampered or not visible as a result of thick, grayish smog.  Where is this smog coming from?  Many negligent citizens like to attribute the harmful smog to the many factories just outside of Hong Kong, dotting the Pearl River Delta.  While this idea holds some weight, a look into published research findings shows that over half of the pollution in Hong Kong comes from local sources.  Hong Kong is heavily reliant on coal-fired power plants, old diesel trucks and diesel powered ships.  If you've walked around any district in Hong Kong, you know what I mean.  New construction seems to be eternally on-going.  And all of these activities bring dangerously high levels of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter to Hong Kong's air. And given all these visible and statistical trends, air quality improvement initiatives seem to take a back seat to goals for economic prosperity and ignorance.  For example, studies have shown that the Macau-Zhuhai-Hong Kong Bridge being built now will increase air pollution.  Increased traffic between Macau and Hong Kong and further infrastructure development necessary to handle this increase in traffic are all contributing factors. While many citizens complain about the pollution, little seems to be done about it.  Hong Kong's Chief Executive, Donald Tsang, clearly demonstrated ignorance to the issue when he made the following statement: "The life expectancy in Hong Kong is among the highest in the world ... you can come to only one conclusion: we have the most environmentally friendly place for people, for executives, for Hong Kong people to live." While Hong Kong's life expectancy may be high, data shows that this will decline rapidly if the air pollution problem is not addressed.  Tsang's comments show that Hong Kong's leaders are not fully committed to environmental issues.  In late 2006, the World Health Organization updated its air quality guidelines and ever since then local academics have pushed to have Hong Kong meet these guidelines.  Hong Kong Secretary for Environment, Transport, and Works naively stated: "We'd rather prefer more practical and reachable targets that can be implemented with a strict timetable." With 90,000 hospital admissions and nearly 10,000 deaths a year being blamed on air pollution, Hong Kong will never be a truly global and modern city unless air pollution is brought down to reasonable levels.
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