Hong Kong falls to 41 in liveability rankings, and Singapore is No 1

Strong waves hit Heng Fa Chuen as Typhoon Mangkhut approached Hong Kong.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Hong Kong has become increasingly unliveable for Asian expats according to a report by an international human resources consultancy, with the city falling 12 places in the rankings to 41 this year - its lowest position in 10 years.

The drop, attributed mainly to the city's high levels of pollution, handling of last year's Typhoon Mangkhut, and vulnerability to health crises, also puts Hong Kong 40 places behind Singapore, which has been ranked first for 17 years running.

The study by ECA International, which was released on Tuesday, covered roughly 480 locations around the world. The research was undertaken in the second half of 2018 and done by in-house experts who evaluated the locations.

Factors taken into consideration included pollution, socio-political tensions, culture and health issues, but not living costs.

Pollution hangs over the Hong Kong skyline, on a poor air quality day in the city.Photo: South China Morning Post

Lee Quane, ECA International's regional director for Asia, said one of the reasons for Hong Kong's fall was the pollution in the city.

"The fact that Hong Kong has air pollution levels similar to what you would expect in cities in developing nations, like Bangkok, Manila and Shanghai, is something that acts as a barrier to improving Hong Kong's liveability," he said.

Hong Kong got its highest average annual concentrations of hazardous ozone in nearly two decades last year, at 52 micrograms per cubic metre.

Moreover, Typhoon Mangkhut also contributed to the drop.

The typhoon was the most powerful in the city since records began in 1946, requiring a typhoon signal No 10 to stay in place for 10 hours. But no serious casualties were recorded.

Singapore has been ranked top for 17 years running. Photo: Handout

However, some 1,500 trees were knocked down, and up to 500 windows broken. A total of 889 flights were cancelled on the day when Mangkhut was on signal No 10.

Even so, Quane noted the disruption it caused to people's ability to live and work, which would not happen in Singapore.

"It [the typhoon] had a significant impact on people, infrastructure, and led to a severe amount of inconvenience [even] two to three days after it visited Hong Kong," Quane said.

While the city has relatively good health care facilities, there were health risks with its high population density, the director said.

He cited Hong Kong's seasonal influenza outbreaks, which recently led to all kindergartens and child care centres being closed for a week ahead of schedule for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Quane expressed concern over the widening gap between Hong Kong and Singapore in the rankings.

"If [expats] can see there is a significant gap in living conditions between Singapore and Hong Kong, if they have a choice to relocate to one of the cities, they'll probably choose Singapore," he said.

The director urged the government to do a better job in its policies, noting it could have done better in the aftermath of Typhoon Mangkhut, and managing pollution.

He suggested congestion charges to discourage people from owning and driving cars, and requiring public transport operators to upgrade to less polluting vehicles.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post