Hong Kong people not ready to deal with natural disasters, experts say

Experts cite study showing Hongkongers underestimate how vulnerable they are

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 March, 2015, 1:38am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 March, 2015, 5:40pm

From fires to landslides, epidemics to typhoons, Hong Kong is in the firing line for a whole range of natural disasters - but a new study reveals that many in the city are unaware of the risks.

A 2012 study by Chinese University researchers found that just 12.8 per cent of the people interviewed believed the city to be susceptible to disasters, even though close to half of those questioned regarded the city as having a lower level of disaster preparedness than its peers.

And researchers from the university's Centre for Disaster and Medical Humanitarian Response said the finding showed a gap between people's perceptions and the reality of the risks they face.

Perhaps not surprisingly given memories of the deadly 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak, infectious disease is considered the biggest risk to the city, with three-quarters of respondents ranking it as the most serious risk. Typhoons ranked second and fires third.

Despite the high international profile of climate changes, just 1.2 per cent took the risk of extreme temperatures as important.

"There is actually a gap between people's perception and the actual risks Hong Kong is facing," said Dr Emily Chan Ying-yang, director of the centre. "As the media always reports on infectious disease, people have a strong perception of it. People do not have enough awareness of hazards. We also face threats from the nuclear plant [in Daya Bay, Guangzhou], fires and landslides."

Fire awareness was especially weak, with only 11.5 per cent of respondents in the study having a fire extinguisher at home.

"We do not know much about the risk we are facing," she added.

While Asia has more natural disasters than anywhere else in the world, Chan said the region had limited evidence-based disaster management.

The call for awareness came as the city held its first workshop on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The framework was adopted by some 187 UN member states last week and sets guidelines on the handling of disasters for the next 15 years. It places more emphasis on science-based action and preserving lives than the Hyogo Framework for Action. Understanding the risk of disaster is the first priority for nations committing to the protocol.