The importance of protecting our natural beauty against pollution

Updated: 2013-10-04 07:13

By Bill Condon(HK Edition)

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With the ever-increasing number of high profile voices joining the fray about the housing shortage in Hong Kong, we must not lose sight of the fact that this situation has been allowed to occur over time. It has resulted from the inability or the unwillingness of respective authorities to deal with the problem in a manner that puts public interest ahead of others with vested interests in housing policy. This situation has evolved during a time when housing, like so many of the fundamentals required to uphold adequate levels of prosperity, opportunity, competitiveness and economic relevance, have been sacrificed for no reason. At the same time our foreign-exchange reserves have reached the astronomical figure of almost $304 billion in August, which is an unjustifiable excess that has been encouraged to prevail. Decisions not to allocate sufficient funding to address the shortage of housing and other important issues over time have compounded many of the problems facing us today.

Some of recent comments emanating from senior figures relating to the development of our country parks are deeply worrying.

A former chief secretary recently proposed developing a parkland wonderland in South Lantau "with nature trails, bicycle tracks and flats". One can only assume that the gentleman concerned has not ventured anywhere near South Lantau in recent years. It really is very difficult to imagine that this proposed nirvana would make any meaningful contribution to the lives of ordinary people or on the affordable housing targets set by the current administration.

Mui Wo in South Lantau boasts a beautiful natural harbor. Unfortunately a cement factory, a truck park, a bus station and a run-down food market blight the shoreline. Thankfully the view of Hong Kong Island has not been disrupted by the proposed super prison and access bridge, as those plans were shelved as a result of the ensuing public outcry. Anywhere else on the planet an area boasting such natural beauty would be developed in an appropriate manner.

For much of the year and in most locations including Lantau Island, residents of Hong Kong will sadly be peering into a murky, grey haze of pollutants that in most advanced economies would be deemed unacceptable. The cost of this to the health and the well-being of the very young, the very old and the broader community is becoming more evident on a daily basis with respiratory infections soaring in recent years.

The Air Pollution Index warnings are regularly hitting levels that would be deemed critical in other cities. Unfortunately there is much that has not been recorded, presumably in an effort to avoid having to share more bad news with the general public. The data available from monitoring stations is a far cry from World Health Organization minimum requirements but the tendency to skirt around the issue remains firm. Poor air quality has a negative impact on the lives of everyone living in the territory but some places and people are more badly affected than others.

Unfortunately the real cost will probably become more evident and more easily diagnosed in the coming 10 to 20 years when the overall impact on health can be better assessed and when the funding for related illness becomes a greater burden on the health service.

Environmental protection is vital to the overall social and economic well-being of the territory and our country parks remain one of the few tangible and potentially valuable assets that we possess. Unfortunately the "brain trust" that supports and understands their true value and the importance of environmental protection may lack the power and influence required for government to address the key issues and drive change at an appropriate pace.

The opportunity exists and the funding is available to take major strides forward and become an influencing force in environmental protection in the region and this would go some way towards ensuring that "Asia's world city" is not simply a hollow marketing slogan.

The author is the founder & chairman of the Multitude Foundation. He is the also the director of the Irish Chamber of Commerce of Macau and director of the Ireland Fund of China.

(HK Edition 10/04/2013 page9)