As 'sewage waterfall' shows, Hong Kong must cut red tape in emergencies

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 April, 2015, 6:27am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 April, 2015, 6:27am

Hong Kong's expertise in civil engineering is arguably world class. From skyscrapers to big infrastructure projects, the city can seemingly construct anything in next to no time. But when it comes to fixing a leaky sewage pipe, the process can be painfully slow, especially when government red tape is involved. The "sewage waterfall" reported in this newspaper on Thursday is nothing short of disgusting. For weeks, the slope of a pavement in North Point had been spewing discharge including excrement and shreds of used toilet paper. The raw sewage was seen cascading down the steps along the road, which is a popular shortcut for pedestrians to reach the train station.

If readers found the picture nauseating, the nuisance for those who commute back and forth in the area every day can only be imagined. Worse, the poor hygiene is a serious public health hazard. The rapid spread of the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome in a Kowloon Bay residential block in 2003 was later attributed to faulty sewage systems in the building. Local residents have understandably kicked up a stink, not just because of the government inaction, but the reason behind it. Building officials claimed that their hands were tied because the damaged drainage pipe was buried under an eight-storey private building on the street. It was not until Wednesday that the authorities stepped in and diverted the damaged pipe into a drain as a temporary fix.

The inertia is typical of government bureaucracy. If an interim solution could be found, it has to be asked why it could not have been implemented earlier. The Buildings Ordinance empowers the authorities to carry out repair works and recover costs from owners if the defects pose an emergency or serious nuisance on hygiene grounds. The sewage waterfall undoubtedly fit into this scenario. The unsightly scene does not square with our image as Asia's world city, nor does the response from a government that claims to put people first. A swift remedy in such situations must be a priority.