Coldest Christmas Eve in 12 years to bring hardship to Hongkongers in poverty
Plunging temperatures raise concerns for city's 1.2 million people in poverty, with community group handing out free hot meals and clothes
Johnny Tam and Jennifer Ngo
Hong Kong is facing its coldest Christmas Eve for 12 years, raising the prospect of a bleak festive period for the city's estimated 1.2 million people living in poverty.
The Observatory warned the minimum temperature could fall to as low as 10 degrees Celsius in urban areas - the coldest since 10.6 degrees in 2000.
Forecasters issued a frost alert for the northern New Territories but said temperatures would rise tomorrow to about 13 degrees.
The Society for Community Organisation (SoCo) expects to hand out more than 200 hot meals in Sham Shui Po today.
On Friday's winter solstice - an important traditional festival for families - more than 200 people turned up for free hot meals given out by the non-profit-making society, even though only 100 tickets were issued.
"I know it is going to be cold, but I have to work no matter how cold it is," said a 70-year-old Sham Shui Po resident, who called herself Mrs Mak.
She works as a cleaner in Tsim Sha Tsui and said she could not afford the loss of a day's wages by taking Christmas day off.
It is estimated about 17 per cent of Hong Kong's population of some seven million struggled with poverty in the second quarter of this year in a sign of the city's widening wealth gap.
To help the poor and needy, SoCo is giving out free pizzas and down jackets tonight in Sham Shui Po.
According to the government website, 13 centres will be opened around the city to provide shelter from the cold.
SoCo's Ng Wai-tung said: "Numbers turning up for free meals have increased in recent years."
He said the widening wealth gap had forced significantly more elderly people and poor families with small children to line up on the streets of Sham Shui Po during the festive season for just a warm box of food.
Premier Wen Jiabao told Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in Beijing last week he should consider poverty and an ageing population as foremost among the top six issues facing the city.
But Ng doubted the government's sincerity in tackling such issues. "The government has yet to put a universal pension scheme on its agenda for discussion. It's disappointing," he said.
"It's especially hard during the holidays, when they see families gathering for meals and going Christmas shopping while they have nothing and no one to celebrate the festival with them. It's such a stark opposite."
Ng said SoCo was giving out more free meals, warm clothes and other necessities because of the greater need among the poor this year.
Another youth organisation, the Federation of Youth Groups, mobilised more than 500 teenagers yesterday to deliver "gifts" - including daily necessities such as shampoo and toothpaste - for the second year running to families in the city's poorer districts.
Andy Ho Wing-cheong, co-ordinator of the federation, said: "We hope love and care can be brought by our teenagers to over 1,000 families in need, so that they can feel the festive atmosphere too."