Hong Kong must remain alert to dangers posed by forces of nature

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 August, 2014, 3:43am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 August, 2014, 3:43am

Given its subtropical location on the southern shores of China, Hong Kong has weathered countless typhoons over the years. Strong winds and heavy rain do bring the city to a standstill from time to time, but in recent years we have escaped with relatively minor losses. If there is anything that draws public attention, it is likely to be whether signal No 8 is raised in time to give people a half or full day off work rather than news of heavy casualties.

This owes much to a wealth of defence and warning systems built up through a century of painful experience in battling tropical storms, some of which resulted in the tragic loss of human lives.

The changes were reviewed in a special South China Morning Post multi-media project released this month, which included an array of archive photos of some of the losses wrought by deadly typhoons over the past 140 years. The project not only puts into perspective how the city has learned to prepare for typhoons over the years; it also reminds us of the havoc wrought by killer storms like Wanda (1962), Hope (1979) and Ellen (1983).

Hong Kong has since come a long way and the loss of life and property during typhoons is no longer as severe as it once was. This is partly the result of technological advances that enable more accurate weather forecasts and, therefore, alerts issued well ahead of the actual impact. Credit also goes to various government agencies for their professionalism in ensuring the city is strong enough to withstand most disasters.

Nature, however, can be so unpredictable that even the most experienced can be left unprepared. Time and again, the public has been shocked by some glaring inadequacies exposed during extreme weather - waterlogged thoroughfares, leaky shopping malls and dangling billboards. The threats are said to be rising amid warnings over climate change, which may cause more extreme weather across the globe. Like those in places more vulnerable to typhoons and other natural hazards, we have to ask ourselves whether we are up to the challenge.

However advanced and sophisticated technology has become, the forces of nature are not something we can always triumph over. Through disasters we have emerged stronger and better prepared. That said, what is adequate today may not be sufficient in the years to come. When it comes to preparing ourselves for the worst, there is no room for complacency.