A new advocacy group is calling for a government task force to address safety issues of squatter huts made all the more apparent by the recent signal No 10 typhoon.
The Squatter Huts Concern Group urged the administration to tackle this long-standing problem by either phasing the structures out or improving their condition.
The call came after Severe Typhoon Vicente wreaked havoc across the city a fortnight ago, causing extensive damage to squatter huts in various areas, including Tai Po, where there was at least one report of a hut's roof being blown away.
'Some squatter huts are covered with old banners to prevent water getting in,' said Yau Wing-kwong, a member. 'The temperature in one of the squatter huts we visited was as high as 50 degrees Celsius.'
He estimates that there are 10,000 squatter huts inhabited by indigenous people, minority groups or new immigrants in Hong Kong. They are mainly made of iron and asbestos sheeting and wood.
Yau said the inhabitants could only use the same sorts of construction material to repair their huts rather than more durable materials.
'Many squatter huts are made of asbestos, and if they are to be repaired, asbestos has to be used,' he said. 'But as all of us know, asbestos is a cancer-causing material.'
Macy Lee, 45, had the walls of her squatter hut in Lam Tsuen repaired two years ago as the 30-year-old walls were badly damaged by termites. After she replaced them with cement walls, she received a letter from the district lands office saying that she had changed the land grant provisions and had to undo the changes.
The group wrote to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and the Development Bureau early last month, asking them to establish a team to look into such issues. So far, officials have not responded, saying only that the request is under review.