Delay puts squatters in landslides danger

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 March, 1998, 12:00am

Tens of thousands of squatters are in danger from landslides because the Government has not found housing for them.

The Civil Engineering Office said 20,000 people had been registered as waiting to be moved from flimsy huts. They were only a small proportion of those in danger, but there was no point adding them to the lengthy public housing waiting list.

'We could increase our rate considerably, but what's the point if they can't be rehoused?' said Principal Government Geotechnical Engineer Andrew Malone.

He said the office pledged a 'very, very small' $10 million of its $1.3 billion budget to clear squatters from treacherous hillsides, but money was not the problem. 'The critical issue is rehousing.' A concerted effort by the department could clear all those in danger of landslides before the onset of the wet season this year, he said.

But they would then be homeless and would jump the queue, disrupting the complex housing priority system.

'Even if they are at risk, it wouldn't be fair if we put them in over the others on the list.' The department yesterday released results of two independent reports on fatal landslides last year, at the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin, and a squatter's house at 26 Kau Wa Keng Upper Village, Kwai Chung.

Government decisions on how to cut the slopes were partly blamed for both. A lack of maintenance was highlighted on the hillside above the monastery, which remains closed.

On June 4 last year, four-year-old Chung Ka-kit died and his sister, 8, had to be dug free when mud and debris crashed over their home at Kau Wa Keng.

Ka-kit's family may be entitled to an exgratia payment through civil action, but department engineers say outright compensation is ruled out because of their status as squatters.

Rainfall was the highest since 1978 in the 12 hours prior to the tragedy, the report found.

A month later a 73-year-old caretaker at Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery was killed when 400 cubic metres of mud and trees buried her house.

More than 600 similar huts have been inspected as a result of the tragedies, and 43 were recommended for clearance.