Maintenance of private slopes left up to owners

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 April, 2006, 12:00am

Regulating upkeep 'a last resort', says engineering official

The government has no plans to make the maintenance of Hong Kong's 18,000 private slopes mandatory, an engineering official said.

This is despite 478 landsides last year, 70 more than the total recorded in the previous three years.

Education was a better alternative, said Mak Shu-hei, deputy head of the geotechnical engineering office at the Civil Engineering and Development Department. Regulating maintenance work on private slopes was 'a last resort that we don't think is necessary right now', Mr Mak said.

'Private slopes are the responsibility of their owners and so it is more appropriate for them to carry out maintenance on their own initiative.'

The department screens about 300 private slopes a year, and has checked over 2,000 to date.

Among the 310 private slopes screened last year, 93 were found to be potentially dangerous and were issued with a Dangerous Hillside Order, which could lead to prosecution if ignored.

Every year, the government spends $1.5 billion on its 39,000 slopes, and upgrades 250.

The government's chief geotechnical engineer, Au Yeung Yan-sang, said although the risk of landslides was halved between 1977 and 2000, the threat remained because of Hong Kong's hilly terrain and heavy summer rainfall.

'The danger is always present, but disaster can be avoided by taking the appropriate precautions,' said Mr Au Yeung.

A review of 18 landslide fatalities over the past 20 years showed that nearly 80 per cent of the deaths were avoidable, according to Mr Au Yeung. The avoidable deaths included seven people who died while on footpaths or at sheltered bus stops under slopes; five died in squatter areas; and two motorists were killed while driving in hilly areas. The four other deaths, considered unavoidable, were of people killed while at home.

Two other deaths that occurred during that time were not counted as one happened during construction and the other during an emergency rescue.

'Ninety-four per cent of the fatal landslides occurred when the landslip warning was in force,' said Mr Au Yeung. Aside from advising the public to avoid steep slopes and motorists to avoid hilly roads when the warning was in effect, he said squatters should move to shelters which were open whenever there was danger of landslides.

But surveys revealed a need for better public education, he said. A poll last year showed 40 per cent of people did not know what to do when a landslide hits.

'We're quite disappointed by those numbers, because we are just talking about quite simple precautionary measures,' said Mr Au Yeung. 'The level of alertness decreased in 2002 to 2004, for example, because it was dry and there were few landslides. But just because your slope is OK this year or the next doesn't mean that it would not collapse once there is heavy rain.'