Rice queue custom attacked

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2001, 12:00am

The decades-old tradition of giving free rice to the elderly has been criticised as social workers and district officers plan to avoid making elderly people queue for hours.

The moves come after eight people collapsed from heat exhaustion during last month's Hungry Ghosts Festival in which thousands queued for hours for free rice. Seven of the elderly required hospital treatment.

Proposals include moving distribution venues to indoor community centres and giving the aged supermarket coupons.

Many neighbourhood groups that organise the events prefer festive, crowded conditions.

A social worker with the Society for Community Organisation, Iman Fok Tin-man, said organisers should deliver rice to the elderly.

'The important thing is whether the rice is reaching those with real need,' she said. 'Right now, elderly people can get 10 bags of rice if they queue up 10 times.'

A Home Affairs Department spokeswoman said coupons would allow the elderly to pick up rice at supermarkets.

'Arguments sometimes break out among people who have queued all day but failed to get their rice because other people queue up more than once,' she said. 'Our district officers have asked organisers to switch venues to indoors with air-conditioning, but they insist on doing it outdoors for a more festive atmosphere.'

Neighbourhood groups that organise festival events call themselves Yulan societies after the Buddhist term for the Hungry Ghosts Festival.