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January 6th, 2009:

More Than 1 Million People Consider Leaving Polluted Hong Kong

Sun2Surf – Jan 6, 2009

Hong Kong – More than 1 million people are considering leaving Hong Kong because of its worsening air quality, according to a university study published Tuesday.

The potential exodus from the city of 6.9 million would be far greater than the numbers who considered leaving in the run-up to Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997, pressure group Civic Exchange warned.

Interviews with 1,000 people suggest that between 700,000 and 1.4 million people are so worried about Hong Kong’s air quality that they are either considering or making plans to leave.

The survey, published in Tuesday’s South China Morning Post and Hong Kong Standard newspapers, indicates that locals as well as expatriates believe the city’s smog is becoming too much of a health hazard to live with.

Speaking on government-run radio station RTHK Tuesday, Civic Exchange chief executive Christine Loh described the findings of the study, conducted by the city’s Baptist University, as “shocking.”

“Nearly half a million people are seriously considering or actually making plans to leave Hong Kong, not just considering it,” she said. “These are huge, huge numbers.

“We are not just talking about expatriates. Only 3 per cent of the sample were non-Chinese. Ninety per cent of the people surveyed have also heard co-workers talking of leaving. We are talking about a broad sweep of Hong Kong people.”

The survey showed that Hong Kong’s image had been dented not only overseas by worsening air quality but also in the minds of people who live and work in the city, Loh said.

Air quality in Hong Kong has deteriorated significantly since the early 1990s, largely because of factory pollution blowing into the city from neighbouring industrial southern China.

Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed leader Donald Tsang has pledged to tackle the issue, describing it in one speech as “a matter of life and death”, but air quality in the high-rise city has continued to deteriorate.

Figures released last week found that the number of days in which roadside air quality in Hong Kong reached dangerous levels was up almost one fifth in 2008 compared to the previous year. – dpa

One In Five Say They May Leave Over Pollution

Bad air could cause bigger exodus than brain drain in ’90s, poll finds

SCMP – Cheung Chi-fai – Jan 06, 2009

Air pollution has the potential to cause an exodus from Hong Kong bigger than the brain drain prompted by pre-handover jitters in the 1990s, a survey has indicated.

One in five residents, according to the poll, are considering leaving the city to escape the contaminated air, while one in 10 are seriously considering such a move or already have plans to go because of health fears.

That could mean an exodus of 700,000 to 1.4 million people, eclipsing the pre-handover brain drain, during which 450,000 people are estimated to have left.

“It is an astonishing figure and it is bigger than the brain drain. But it is just caused by the air,” said Michael DeGolyer, director of the Hong Kong Transition Project at Baptist University, which conducted the poll for the Hong Kong-based think-tank Civic Exchange.

The survey of more than 1,000 people, of whom some 3 per cent were expatriates, also found that like the earlier brain drain, the exodus could be led by high-income earners and highly educated people from the professional and managerial ranks.

One in 10 respondents to the poll, conducted in September and October last year, also said they had heard of foreigners turning down job offers because of air pollution.

Professor DeGolyer said the pre-handover brain drain had led the government to spend billions of dollars to expand the university system.

While many people who left before the handover eventually returned, air pollution had since emerged as a major factor affecting people’s decisions on whether to work in Hong Kong, he said.

Citing a recent report on the future of Asian financial centres released by the City of London Corporation, Civic Exchange chief Christine Loh Kung-wai said Singapore had replaced Hong Kong as the third global financial centre after New York and London.

“They do think Hong Kong is a good place, except for air quality,” she said, adding that the city’s “particular social problem” had turned into a “business problem”.

Ms Loh said that while Hong Kong had increasingly come under an international spotlight because of its air quality problems, the survey presented the “worried voice” of the silent public, who were predominantly Hong Kong Chinese.

Professor DeGolyer said there was a “silence epidemic” in regard to air pollution as many people had become so frustrated that they had given up talking to the government.

Compared to the results of a similar survey conducted in 2001, the results of the latest poll showed that more people were concerned about air pollution and that most believed the problem was a top priority for officials to deal with.

In an attempt to mitigate the effects of air pollution, two-thirds said they had closed windows and turned on air conditioning when the air was particularly polluted. Half of them said they suffered from coughing and itchy eyes, while a third said they had to go to clinics for pollution-related health problems.

Earlier studies have found that air pollution causes 1,600 premature deaths and HK$2 billion in direct economic losses each year.