South China Morning Post
News›Hong Kong›Health & Environment
Yonden Lhatoo can hardly believe that seven years after a well publicised deadly accident, shoddy management is still to blame for this menace and no one seems to care
At lunchtime on Monday, a 14-metre-tall tree came crashing down outside the main building of the former government headquarters in Central, hitting a woman who ended up in hospital with multiple injuries.
An expert suggested root decay brought down the tree, which was the government’s responsibility. It might also have become top-heavy, perched on a slope with thin soil loosened by rainy weather – a recipe for disaster.
Then on Wednesday morning, another giant tree, 21 metres tall, collapsed on Bonham Road in Sai Ying Pun, a major Mid-Levels thoroughfare, hitting a goods vehicle and injuring a newspaper vendor and a woman passing by. This time the Highways Department was responsible for the maintenance of the tree, which was apparently recommended for felling more than a year ago.
Investigations are under way, and by the time the facts are ascertained, I can pretty much guarantee there will be very little to no media interest, given the short pubic attention span in such matters. After all, no one was killed, right?
Sounds cynical, I know, but look what happened last August when a heavily pregnant woman waiting for a bus was killed by a falling tree on Robinson Road in Mid-Levels.
In this case, again, a specialist said the 10-metre-tall tree was ill suited to be balancing on a confined slope with thin soil, and its trunk was rotten and brittle as a biscuit. Responsibility fell on the residential estate in which the tree was planted, but it also highlighted the lack of regulations to ensure private owners look after trees on their property.
In November last year, the Audit Commission warned that there were tens of thousands of unmanaged roadside trees, and underscored the need for legislation to bring private owners in line.
The same old questions are raised about tree safety every time an accident happens, just as they were when a university student was killed in Stanley in 2008 in the first high-profile case that grabbed everyone’s attention. The answers are still as vague as ever, and even today you have the usual buck-passing when it comes to accepting responsibility.
That’s despite the setting up of the Tree Management Office in 2010 with a mandate to play a one-stop, coordinating role in looking after all those trees – more than 1.6 million by some estimates – spread around the concrete jungle that is Hong Kong.
A recent scientific study suggested that people live longer in urban neighbourhoods if they have trees around them, but in our city, it seems to work the other way round.
There was no public outrage over the death of the pregnant woman last year. The only indignation or concern I came across was in media reports, and that, too, disappeared when the next big story came along.
In contrast, you should have seen the public backlash just a week after the woman died when a stray dog wandered onto the tracks on the East Rail Line and was killed by a train. There were angry protests for days at MTR stations, with people threatening to jump onto the tracks, while tens of thousands signed online petitions condemning the railway operator for its “heartless” attitude.
I wish the good citizens of Hong Kong would display similar enthusiasm to seek redress when it comes to the reckless endangerment of fellow human beings due to mismanaged plant growth. You can’t just write off a preventable tragedy as a freak accident, or an act of God, or fate.
Perhaps if a rotten tree were to flatten a stray dog one day, enough public outrage would be generated to force the government to tackle the root of the problem.