If the government was so eager to throw money away in its budget turnaround – a desperate attempt to appease the public – why didn’t it spend the HK$36 billion on something that would be popular, beneficial to health and enhance Hong Kong’s international standing?
In other words, why not reduce roadside pollution? It is roadside pollution which accounts for most of the pollution that people suffer.
There have been various studies in Hong Kong showing that it has a harmful effect on health and a report in The Lancet journal recently said air pollution – particularly roadside pollution – triggers more heart attacks than using cocaine and poses a similar risk of heart attacks as alcohol, coffee and physical exertion.
About 80 per cent to 90 per cent of Hong Kong’s roadside pollution is caused by buses and trucks, with 3 per cent produced by private cars. Christine Loh Kung-wai’s (right) Civic Exchange has estimated it would cost HK$147.5 million to compensate franchised bus companies to scrap buses with Euro I and Euro II emission-standard engines. These emit almost twice the pollutants of Euro III engines.
Civic Exchange also did a study showing that if the government provided a subsidy of HK$1.6 billion then non-franchised buses and trucks with Euro I engines and earlier could also be scrapped. This is a drop in the bucket for the government, which has more cash than it knows what to do with.
The Civic Exchange plan is light years ahead of government plans for testing hybrid buses and other vague attempts at policy. If it was to spend, say, an easily affordable HK$20 billion on the project then it could make a significant improvement to our air quality.
As it is, we can’t even rely on the government’s air quality figures. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s mobile real-time air monitoring platform van, which gives a representative measurement of air quality, shows roadside pollution levels substantially higher than the government’s monitoring stations.
In addition to dragging its feet over taking effective action against old vehicles, the government has taken more than three years to come up with new air-quality standards.
This is not rocket science but the government, which keeps bleating on about being “Asia’s World City”, is reluctant to adopt World Health Organisation standards. The reason, as everybody knows, is that adoption of the standards would send air pollution records sky-high and attract even more attention than our spiralling property prices.
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen apparently believes it is not a problem since Hong Kong has one of the highest life-expectancy rates in the world.
However, a recent survey by Clean the Air Network in Sham Shui Po showed that 78 per cent of respondents believed roadside pollution was “serious or “very serious”, and 73 per cent believed it affected their health.
If Exco members did not have their heads so firmly in the sand they would notice it’s a problem.