Hong Kong’s Typhoon Mangkhut response highlights value of community spirit in tackling natural disasters
Paul Yip says while the government’s efforts to prepare for the typhoon were commendable, a better surveillance and monitoring system, drawing on community information, could have minimised chaos in the storm’s aftermath
The damage caused by Typhoon Mangkhut in Hong Kong has been substantial with more than 400 people injured, fortunately without serious casualties.
Hong Kong’s altruistic spirit has been strong and vibrant after the typhoon. Students have helped clean up their schools, the tourism sector offered free bus rides to residents in the New Territories, volunteers from one church distributed food to the elderly, to give just a few examples.
Given the massive scale of the destruction, simply waiting for the government to handle the entire clean-up operation would have been unrealistic so it was heartening to witness the involvement of the community. This is exactly how we can leverage community resources to help each other.
Hong Kong has coped well with natural disasters due to the development of better infrastructure. Based on Observatory records, the deadliest typhoons in the city’s history were Wanda in 1962, which claimed 130 lives with 53 people missing, and Typhoon Rose, which killed 110 people in 1971. Since then, Hong Kong has managed to survive many storms without major loss of life.
That the number of casualties has been reduced substantially is not down to luck but, rather, the hard work and diligent efforts of many. Sometimes, we do take things for granted. When Mangkhut hit the Philippines, it killed over 100 people. On the other side of the world, Hurricane Florence caused over 40 deaths in the US.
The chaotic situation facing by commuters in Hong Kong after Mangkhut hit is very unfortunate. More than 1,000 road sections were blocked by fallen trees and other debris. Bus services were largely cancelled the next day and train services were disrupted on the East Rail Line. The morning rush hour on September 17 was particularly onerous for many people.
The Education Bureau’s decision to close schools for two days after the typhoon was a timely move to avoid further traffic congestion and to ensure the safety of pupils. Our university cancelled classes for a day, but essential services were still in operation to provide necessary support.
The business sector wasted no time in resuming operations after the typhoon. While this speaks of its efficiency, we might perhaps have been too efficient, as returning to work in the chaotic aftermath of the typhoon was certainly stressful for employees. Sometimes, we need to give ourselves and others more room to recover. Otherwise, we gain efficiency at the expense of the well-being of the whole community.
Watch: Typhoon Mangkhut brings transport chaos to Hong Kong
To be fair, the Hong Kong government did a good job in its early warnings and preparations before the typhoon hit. However, it might have underestimated the amount of damage to be dealt with afterwards. A better surveillance and monitoring system should be set up with the support of the community. The community at large can provide information that helps the government stay updated on the situation in different areas.
A mechanism to gather information would help improve the government’s response to natural disasters. Also, a more sympathetic and empathetic attitude from employers would help ease the worries of many who tried to get to work on time. We can all learn from this episode to better prepare for future storms.
Perhaps the coming weeks would be a good time to show our understanding towards each other, including those who might still be struggling in the aftermath with a lack electricity and water. The hardworking attitude of Hongkongers is admirable, and we should indeed be grateful to those who provide the essential services that keep the city safe and running.
While our sincere gratitude goes to the workers who risked their lives for others during the typhoon – the firefighters, police force and the many others who worked hard to speed up the recovery of the city – we should all play a part in community rebuilding.
Paul Yip is chair professor in the Department of Social work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong