Heat stress and Hong Kong go hand in hand.
It’s a typical Hong Kong summer afternoon.
The sun shines oppressively over the urban jungle, and you feel your body’s moisture and energy being sucked away as your feet start to burn on the tarmac. Where do you go?
For most, the answer is simple: home. For many, home represents solace amidst scorching conditions, with air conditioning that reduces the most suffocating summer days to a minor inconvenience.
For over 200,000 others, however, home is a metal furnace, confining the worst of the summer heat into poorly air-conditioned (if at all!) cages three times smaller than the city’s jail cells.
Summers in Hong Kong are getting hotter and longer, a trend that is disproportionately affecting the city’s underprivileged. Last year, Hong Kong recorded its hottest summer in 136 years, with over 47 days crossing the 33℃ mark. By 2050, it is expected that the average temperature will rise by 3℃, meaning that Hong Kong will experience almost 50 days with temperatures in excess of 36℃. Furthermore, over the past 50 years, summers have increased by 17 days on average. With climate change on the rise, Hong Kong’s summer situation will surely get even worse.
The burden of this dramatic increase in summer heat and its intensity falls on Hong Kongers who live in “cage homes'' and subdivided flats. These densely-packed spaces often have poor ventilation and no windows, and are often situated in highly-urbanized, built-up districts that exacerbate the deadly urban heat island effect. The impacts of these conditions range from dizziness and nausea, to heat strokes and even seizures. A City University of Hong Kong study even found that the aforementioned projected increase in temperature could lead to a 15% increase in mortality rate during the summer. And that figure would certainly increase more dramatically among elderly, underprivileged residents who predominantly occupy Hong Kong’s cage homes.
This is a huge problem.