Noise pollution in Hong Kong needs no research to show how serious the problem is. The pounding din of jackhammers, blaring of horns by agitated drivers, incessant drilling from renovations next door, loud phone conversation on public transport - the evidence is everywhere. However unpleasant it is, noise is considered part of city life, something that has to be put up with in a busy place like ours. Although the exposure to noise is arguably less damaging than breathing filthy air, that does not mean the problem does not warrant public attention and improvement. Excessive noise can lead to more than impaired hearing and insomnia. The need for more action is just as pressing.
Full appraisal of how serious the problem is will be a helpful step. This can be achieved by collating and analysing the noise-related complaints filed by the public. A designer in New York has produced a map of the city's noise topography, based on noise complaint details available on the city's Open Data website. Lauded as a work of art because of its visual impact, the project showed a striking disparity between rich and poor districts, which suggested noise in areas for the rich was handled by the authorities more seriously.
The European Union has mandated noise mapping for cities with more than 250,000 inhabitants since 2007. But noise complaint details are not publicised in Hong Kong. A request by this newspaper did not yield any result, with the police saying district divisions were too busy to tally the detailed figures. But overall, there were 15,692 complaints in the central districts last year. It shows that noise pollution is a serious problem.
A browse through the Environmental Protection Department website may give the impression that the authorities are doing a good job in abating traffic and construction noise. Noise mapping for certain infrastructure projects is also available, but whether the public is aware of the information is another matter. A government survey on noise impact two years ago showed that 64 per cent of the public said noise had no impact on their daily life. The finding sits oddly with the thousands of complaints received each year.
As air and light pollution get their fair share of attention, it is high time the government renewed momentum to combat noise pollution. Better education, tougher enforcement and changes in individual habits and behaviour can make a difference.