Hong Kong housing

Action needed to help Hong Kong poor at risk in the heat

Tens of thousands of people living in subdivided units that become ovens in summer are not only prone to physical illness but also mental disorders

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018, 7:17am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018, 7:16am

No one needs reminding of the dire need to rehouse subdivided flat dwellers in decent living conditions. But it is still difficult not to be reminded afresh by the plight of some of the city’s poorest residents during spells of hot weather.

With cyclonic conditions to the north influencing the forecast of very hot weather today, heat stress surveys by the Society for Community Organisation during an unusually hot May, and a sweltering first week of July, are timely.

For the tens of thousands of poor households living in subdivided units, there is no escape from temperatures that can be 10 degrees hotter than outside, unless they can afford to run air conditioners continuously night and day.

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The society’s survey of 234 tenants showed that they cope by avoiding their homes as much as possible, for example by eating outdoors, doing homework in libraries and seeking refuge in malls and 24-hour restaurants.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the society found an oppressive heatwave in May, when a very hot weather warning lasted more than 15 days, made some subdivided flat dwellers tearful with distress and, in many cases, battle depression.

Almost half said they had struggled emotionally and a further 21 per cent said they had suffered some form of depression. The society also measured the temperatures of 27 subdivided homes in June and the first week of July, and found that places in Yuen Long reached up to 42 degrees, with 81 per cent of them hotter than outside.

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The organisation’s Sze Lai-shan urged the government to build more transitional housing. However, it will take time to make any real difference to the housing crisis that has spawned subdivided flats.

The emergence of emotional stress and psychiatric symptoms is cause for concern.

We trust that more relief is forthcoming from non-governmental organisations, and that the government stands ready to provide them with such equipment as portable fans or air conditioners. Every gesture counts.

An unventilated home that becomes an oven during the summer months takes a sufficient toll on physical health, such as through sleep disorders. Every step should be taken to ensure the effects do not pose a risk to mental health as well.