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November 16th, 2011:

Health of millions of children in East Asia, Pacific at risk due to climate change, UNICEF report says

“Climate change is expected to worsen the plight of millions of children in East Asia and the Pacific who already lack food and clean water and are vulnerable to disease, … UNICEF said Monday … in its report (.pdf) ‘Children’s vulnerabilities to climate change and disaster impacts in East Asia and the Pacific,'” AlertNet reports. “‘Higher temperatures have been linked to increased rates of malnutrition, cholera, diarrheal disease and vector-borne diseases like dengue and malaria,’ putting children at far greater risk of contracting these diseases and succumbing to their complications, the report said,” the news service writes.

Children in East Asia and the Pacific “have already noted a range of experiences from climate change, the report said, from threats to livelihoods in Mongolia, dangers of sea level rise in the Pacific Islands, massive flooding in the Philippines and crop failures in Indonesia,” AlertNet notes. “Asia Pacific is also the most disaster-prone region in the world and most deaths from disasters are concentrated here,” the news service writes, adding, “Climate change impacts are also projected to increase the numbers of children affected by natural hazards globally, the report said” (Win, 11/14).

We’re top of the health league

Hong Kong Standard

Samson Lee

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hong Kong ranks first in terms of health, ahead of cities including Tokyo and Singapore.

A study by the London School of Economics, Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Society and the University of Hong Kong looked at 129 cities, including Beijing, Moscow and Delhi, totalling 1.2 billion people.

Hong Kong had the highest health index of 0.88 (with 1 the full mark) and was followed by three cities with the same score of 0.86 – Osaka and Tokyo in Japan, and Singapore.

Professor of Urban Studies at the LSE Ricky Burdett said the health index was based on life expectancy, child mortality (death before a child’s fifth birthday) and other health indicators.

In Hong Kong, people live to an average age of 82.5 years. In New York life expectancy is 80.3 years while those living in London have an average age of 80.6 years.

Child mortality in Hong Kong has dropped from 13 per 1,000 live births in 1980 to less than four in 2009. It is now at two deaths per 1,000 births, compared to five in London.

Burdett believes Hong Kong topped the list because of a well-established health system.

“Urbanization has been associated with improvements in income levels and health outcomes. Global well-being will increasingly be determined by the health of urban dwellers,” he said, adding it is the first time for the LSE to conduct a study to compare health levels among metropolitan regions.

However, Hong Kong falls outside the top 10 when it comes to education, scoring 0.66. Sydney topped the list with 0.89. The index includes factors such as the average years of schooling.

In addition, the LSE and HKU interviewed more than 30 people during the summer to understand their thoughts about their living environments. It was found that convenience and accessibility is important to Hong Kong people.

A respondent told the research team that those living in Tai Po spent more time traveling than those in the city. “You’ve got to make a choice: either a better environment or a more convenient place,” he said.

The study weighed the trade-off between convenience and living in extremely cramped conditions such as partitioned flats in ShamShui Po.

Urban and health practitioners and academics from Europe, Africa and Australia will make over 40 presentations about health and well-being at a conference at the Conrad Hotel today and tomorrow

New pollution traps to target ‘invisible’ fumes

South China Morning Post – 16 Nov. 2011

Petrol and LPG vehicles pumping out colourless emissions face being ordered off the road, while subsidised upgrades will be available for minibuses and taxis

Environment officials are setting a hi-tech trap for drivers whose vehicles pump out invisible fumes.

The new detection system will be aimed at 490,000 vehicles powered by petrol and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). These emit pollutants more difficult to spot than those from diesel-powered vehicles, which spew out black smoke.

Devices using infrared and ultraviolet beams will measure the concentrations of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.

The machines will also photograph the vehicle and record its registration number and speed.

Vehicles that exceed the limits and whose owners fail to rectify the problem could be deregistered under the scheme, which will be rolled out in the next two years. Two sets of remote sensing devices will be installed 15 metres apart at each selected detection point. Two readings showing excess emissions will lead to enforcement action.

The officials have shortlisted about 100 roads and streets across the city suitable for installing the devices, which will be placed at five different spots every day on rotation. Highways and roads with multiple lanes will not be selected as the devices work best in single lane roads, such as connecting routes to busy corridors like Cotton Tree Drive and Lung Cheung Road.

Those identified will be asked to undergo detailed emission tests at designated centres for a fee, currently set at HK$310. If they fail the test and do not rectify the problem within 12 days, the vehicle’s registration might be revoked.

Environment officials hope the scheme will spur regular maintenance of vehicles, especially the 18,000 taxis and 3,000 LPG minibuses blamed for worsening nitrogen dioxide levels on roadsides.

Previous studies by the department found that 80 per cent of taxis and 45 per cent of minibuses are spewing excessive pollutants because of defective catalytic converters – devices that change toxic exhaust emissions into non-toxic substances. Some operators ignore the rule that the converters should be replaced every 100,000 kilometres, officials said.

These taxis and minibuses alone account for about 40 per cent of total nitrogen oxide emissions on busy roads.

Mok Wai-chuen, assistant director of the department, said the remote sensing technology was just one in a series of measures being taken to improve roadside air quality.

To help taxi and minibus operators cope with the new steps to enforce emissions limits, the government has earmarked HK$150 million to offer a one-off subsidy for them to replace the catalytic converters in their vehicles next year.

“The subsidy will help lift the awareness among these operators on the importance of proper maintenance,” said Mok.

The government has also pledged to help franchised bus operators fit pollution-reduction devices to older buses to cut nitrogen oxide emissions.

Ringo Lee Yiu-pui, a committee member of the Hong Kong Automobile Association, supported the remote sensing scheme but believed the penalty should be stiffer.

“It is just like drink-driving and speeding. Heavy punishment will definitely bring changes,” he said.

He said the scheme would help identify cars with excessive emissions on the city’s roads, whether they were new or old.

The measure could also force commercial vehicle operators to maintain their fleets regularly, instead of making a quick fix before the vehicle examination.

Lee also said the government should choose carefully the locations for the devices. “If it is a fixed location, drivers can simply avoid passing there or deliberately slow down their cars, just the same way as they deal with speed checks and laser guns.”

Vehicles travelling at less than 7km/h or more than 90km/h will be excluded from the checks.

Description: A remote sensing device is tested in Hammer Hill Road, Diamond Hill. The machines will be used to identify petrol and LPG vehicles pumping out excessive emissions.