Repair old buildings before it's too late

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 June, 2011, 12:00am


In August 2008, a fire broke out in a nightclub in Mong Kok, killing four people.

Earlier this month, a canopy on a building in Tuen Mun collapsed, seriously injuring a man in the street below.

Now, another blaze, which ripped through a building in Ma Tau Wai, has left four people dead. Less than 18 months ago, a building nearby collapsed, also killing four people. What do these tragedies tell us?

They are timely reminders of our flawed approach to the management of old buildings. It is absurd and shameful to sacrifice precious lives - all because of unsafe buildings - in a world-class city such as Hong Kong.

The public's fears are mounting. If the government does not tackle the problem immediately, it is likely to lose people's confidence and its reputation will be tarnished.

We need a full-scale overhaul of all old, broken-down tenement blocks. Experts should check their structures and carry out renovations, if necessary.

In some flats, there are cubicles which could block escape routes, as they did in the recent fire.

We should fix any problems right away - even if it means tearing down the entire structure - because such buildings pose a serious threat to residents. Subdivision of flats should be supervised by qualified contractors, and such flats should be inspected regularly to ensure they meet safety standards.

Many old buildings lack modern fire-fighting equipment, while emergency exits are blocked. There should be fire drills for tenants, who should learn how to keep calm and act properly in an emergency.

The authorities may wish to dismiss the dangers of old buildings awaiting redevelopment. But we cannot afford to lose more lives.

Kevin Kong, Chiu Lut Sau Memorial Secondary School