Frontline: Hong Kong - Struggling for success in a dirty business

THE LITTLE Dutch boy putting his finger in the dyke trying to stop the floods has about as much chance as Mr Tse Chin-wah of holding back the avalanche of pollution in Hong Kong, which is making Britain's former colony an increasingly bad place to live.

Mr Tse, a senior environment protection official, is fighting against the odds and today we are standing at the most notorious part of the battleground in Causeway Bay, a popular shopping area in the centre of Hong Kong.

Boxes on the side of the road monitor the air quality. They regularly report choking levels of pollution so bad that passers-by have to cover their faces in a vain attempt to fend off the muck that descends from the skies.

Hong Kong is simply too crowded. The city has the highest concentration of vehicles anywhere on earth and the buildings are so tightly packed that the air cannot circulate freely.

The government has been issuing daily bulletins giving the air pollution index since 1996. At the best times, Causeway Bay scores 60 points. This signifies that the air quality is not exactly bad but could produce illness over the long term. Generally, however, the score hovers just below 100 points. Above that, people with heart and respiratory problems are advised to keep well away. At worst, Causeway Bay hits the 160 point mark. Then it is a very unpleasant place indeed.

Causeway Bay also borders Victoria Harbour, famous for the extraordinary skyline surrounding it and junks floating past ocean-going liners. What the tourist pictures do not, and cannot, show is the colour and smell of the water, especially the waters in the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter, where floating gin palaces nestle against wooden fishing vessels and rundown boats serve as home for old sea- faring families.

In the company of David Wong and his Environmental Protection Department colleagues we bob up and down in a tiny sampan to get a bird's eye view of the polluted mess.

Although it does not look too bad, the smell tells another story. The storm drains on the edge of the harbour are supposed to be for rain water. But many waste disposal drains have been illegally linked up to them. Mr Wong's team of investigators are engaged in a time consuming task of identifying where the polluters are located.

The inspectors have some success. However, when we inspect an open sewer designed for storm water I see how difficult the task is. Suddenly the water pouring through the drain turns murky brown. Mr Wong declares that it must be coming from a nearby building site breaking the rules of water disposal. Mobile phones are quickly deployed to get an inspector on the job and find the culprit. It seems another case of putting sticking plasters over a gaping wound.

Protests over the government's lack of enthusiasm for tackling pollution problems are mounting. But there are limits to what the authorities can do. Hong Kong is situated on the tip of China's industrial heartland. Airborne and waterborne pollution knows no boundaries.

Mr Tse looks up. Above him the sky turns into a murky glow as a heady mix of pollutants get together and descend over the territory. "I'm not saying it's not bad, but it's improving," says Mr Tse.

You have to be an optimist in his line of work.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there