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March 4th, 2008:

Hong Kong 15th on Best City for Asian Expatriates To Live

Singapore is best city for Asian expatriates to live: survey

Associated Press – Updated on Mar 04, 2008 – SCMP

Singapore has topped a list of cities around the world offering Asian expatriates the best quality of life, followed by Sydney, a survey from a human resources consultancy said on Tuesday.

UK-headquartered ECA International’s annual location ranking, which compares living standards in 254 international locations, found that Singapore is an ideal place for Asians to live in because of the quality of its infrastructure and health facilities.

The city-state’s low health risks, air pollution, crime rates and cosmopolitan population added to its appeal, Lee Quane, ECA International’s general manager in Hong Kong, told The Associated Press.

Mr Quane noted, however, that while Singapore scored consistently well in most of the 15 categories used to asses each location, it saw a deterioration in some factors.

“Air pollution last year was slightly higher than 2006, primarily due to the haze last year,” Quane said. Haze from forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia has become a major problem Singapore, where air quality levels have worsened every year during the dry season.

Sydney came in second, followed by Melbourne, Australia, and Kobe, Japan, which tied for third place in the ranking that combines data collected by ECA International with results of a survey of expatriates.

While Sydney and Singapore scored similarly well in criteria such as pollution levels, the quality of goods and services available, transport and infrastructure, the Australian city’s geographical distance from Asia made it a less favorable location than Singapore, Lee Quane said.

“For Sydney, Japanese or Chinese assignees will have to travel relatively long distances, and so it’s much more difficult to maintain contact with family,” Lee Quane said. He added that cultural differences were also a factor.

The fifth-best city for Asian expats was Copenhagen, Denmark, the survey found, followed by Canberra, Australia (6th), Vancouver, Canada (7th), Wellington, New Zealand (8th), Yokohama, Japan (9th) and Dublin, Ireland (10th).

Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong and Tokyo were tied at 15th place.

Hong Kong made improvements in personal security and healthcare infrastructure but air pollution was likely to remain a problem, Lee Quane said.

“People feel safer in Hong Kong than they have in recent years,” he said. “But looking at the main reason why Hong Kong still lags behind Singapore is the issue of air pollution.

Mr Quane noted, however, that Hong Kong scored better than Singapore in one respect: the media.

“In news and media, we regard Hong Kong as much more free and fair than in Singapore,” he said.

The survey showed that Baghdad, Iraq, remains the least favorable place to live for Asian expats, followed by Kabul, Afghanistan and Karachi, Pakistan, because of the high risk to personal security and lack of suitable facilities for expatriates.

Delta Bridge Will Be An Ecological Monstrosity

Updated on Mar 04, 2008 – SCMP

Your editorial (“Bridge will benefit city, but only after hard work”, February 29) endorses the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge without critically questioning the very basis of this mega project.

When city-regions around the globe are shifting to green infrastructure, why is Hong Kong’s government supporting an outdated carbon-intensive “vehicles-only” bridge? Besides impacting the sensitive Pearl River marine estuary (including already compromised Chinese white dolphin habitats), this bridge will clearly increase the region’s carbon footprint through energy intensive concrete construction and car and truck movements in perpetuity.

Why must most non-driving residents of high density Hong Kong and Macau subsidise a mega project that will induce greater private vehicle movements and further congestion in already pedestrian-unfriendly cities at either end of the bridge? And why haven’t more eco-friendly high-speed rail links or rail-freight logistics even been considered in the bridge proposal? This lack of vision really shows the government’s rhetoric on blue skies to be completely shallow.

Taking a look at the massive financial outlays projected for this bridge (and related highway links) one has to wonder if the extravagant sums could have been used for retrofitting every building in the city to be more energy efficient.

Visionary cities around the world are putting in place green infrastructure projects that create jobs and support the quality of city life rather than investing in carbon-intensive mega projects like this dinosaur-era bridge.

David Sadoway, Lamma

Sepa Admits It Lacks Sway To Block Big Oil Refinery

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – Updated on Mar 04, 2008 – SCMP

The country’s top environmental watchdog has admitted it lacks the power to block the construction of a massive oil refinery near Guangzhou, which experts say will exacerbate air pollution problems in the Pearl River Delta.

Yesterday’s remarks by State Environmental Protection Administration deputy director Pan Yue follow mounting public concern over the project’s impact.

The mainland’s largest joint venture, the US$5 billion Sinopec and Kuwait Petroleum Corporation project is located in Guangzhou’s Nansha district, about 40km from Yuen Long and Macau.

Speaking on the sidelines of the annual session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Mr Pan said more attention should be given to the environmental impact of the project, listed as a key development by the Guangzhou city government this year.

“Environmental factors should be thoroughly considered in the overall planning of any regions and industries,” he said. “However, the existing law does not make it mandatory to have an environmental assessment for the whole region before a specific project can be allowed to go ahead.”

Environmentalists have argued that the project, approved by the National Development and Reform Commission last year, should be halted pending the approval of environmental assessments for the whole Nansha industrial district by Sepa.

Fourteen Guangdong People’s Congress deputies submitted a motion last month asking the government to halt the project.

They said the project, situated in the heart of the Pearl River Delta, would inevitably aggravate air pollution in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai , Zhongshan , Dongguan , Hong Kong and Macau.

They cited concerns by mainland and Hong Kong environmentalists over pollution from the Nansha industrial district, and its effects on the air and marine environment in the region.

Villagers from the district were relocated in June and refinery construction was widely expected to start this summer, the Economic Observer newspaper reported.

The local government has insisted it can minimise possible environmental consequences on neighbouring cities.

Mr Pan said the Nansha refinery was just one of many large environmentally sensitive projects, most notably hydropower and petrochemical plants, that Sepa had failed to check due to the lack of legal support.

“The most important question we want to ask is whether environmental factors have ever been considered in authorities’ approval of large hydropower and urban development projects,” he said.

He refused to remark on the damming of the Nu (Salween) River in northwestern Yunnan , the longest undammed river in Southeast Asia. Final preparations have started for the construction of one of the 13 proposed dams despite a lack of Sepa approval.

On completion, the Nansha plant will be able to process up to 15 million tonnes of oil a year and produce 800,000 tonnes of ethylene, used to make plastic. It is scheduled to begin operation in 2010.

Hong Kong Air Pollution Hits Record High

Air Pollution Hits Record High

Celine Sun -Mar 04, 2008 – SCMP

Air pollution hit a record high for the year yesterday, with officials blaming light winds trapping vehicle emissions and high regional air pollution.

The air pollution index (API) reached 154 at the roadside station in Central, 146 in Causeway Bay and 132 in Mong Kok by 5pm, the highest readings this year. The stations in Kwai Chung and Sham Shui Po saw high readings of 109 and 117.

The API has been at a “high” to “very high” level for several days, but is expected to improve from today.

An Environmental Protection Department spokesman said Hong Kong was being affected by a continental air stream with relatively high background air pollution.

The Observatory said the weak winds had been a major factor pushing up the city’s index.

“In fact, a west wind and an east wind are converging in the city, resulting in weak winds and hard dispersion for air pollutants,” a spokeswoman said.

“But the east wind will strengthen over the next couple of days. We expect that the air pollution will be improved from late [today].”

The Environmental Protection Department reminded people with heart or respiratory problems to cut physical exertion and outdoor activities, and to try to avoid congested streets.

Calm Weather Leaves Air Pollution At High

Nishika Patel – Tuesday, March 04, 2008 – The StandardAir pollution in Hong Kong yesterday hit its highest level this year with the air pollution index in Central and Causeway Bay exceeding 150 and that in Mong Kok reaching 130.

An API in excess of 100 is described as bad and people with heart or respiratory illnesses may notice mild aggravation of their health conditions.

Generally healthy individuals may also notice some discomfort.

Environmental Protection Department official Dave Ho said the high pollution levels were caused by still air conditions, adding there should be an improvement today when winds are expected to pick up.

However, environmentalists have described the government’s explanation as inadequate, saying the real culprit was Hong Kong’s and the Pearl River Delta’s high combustion emissions.

I must be critical of the government response. All maritime conditions do is push the pollution away. It does not disappear, it just goes to someone else’s air space,” said professor Anthony Hedley of the department of community medicine at Hong Kong University. He added the health impact on the elderly and children would be severe on days like yesterday.

This is a very high level by any criteria. But it is the average daily levels that have the most serious effects. High pollution days just bring it to people’s attention,” Hedley said.