The mortality rate rose when daily mean tem­per­a­ture in­creased above

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CRITICAL HK ISSUES - Con­tact the writer at hon­eyt­sang@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

Lee is young, but he has long known his life is al­ways about a math for­mula: in­come mi­nus ex­pense.

He and his mother re­ceive a monthly al­lowance of HK$4,700 from the gov­ern­ment. The midget digs, with hardly a space to walk in, costs them HK$3,400 a month. Thus, only HK$1,300 is left to feed two mouths.

“I had to run the air-con­di­tioner on the hottest nights just to let my son go to sleep,” said Tao, whose hus­band died of lung can­cer seven years ago.

She eked out HK$300 a month, over 20 per­cent of the house­hold in­come, to give Lee air-con­di­tioned nights.

In Hong Kong, low-in­come fam­i­lies liv­ing in sub­di­vided flats like Lee’s house­hold are par­tic­u­larly de­fense­less against global warm­ing, said Field­ing of HKU.

“Good ven­ti­la­tion is a de­ter­mi­nant of good health,” he stressed, adding, “Imag­ine liv­ing in a cage home with­out fresh air. It doesn’t only trap the heat, but pol­lu­tants, viruses and bac­te­ria, and peo­ple there will be in­fected more read­ily.”

The warm­ing cli­mate also fa­vors the flour­ish­ing of par­tic­u­lar strains of bac­te­ria. E. coli, the most com­mon bac­te­ria caus­ing di­ar­rhea in chil­dren world­wide, grows at its high­est rate at 37 C, equal to the hu­man core tem­per­a­ture.

In 2016, a group of sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered that a 1 C in­crease in monthly mean tem­per­a­ture had led to a rise of 8 per­cent in in­ci­dence of E. coli in Bangladesh. The study, pub­lished in the Jour­nal of In­fec­tious Dis­eases last year, pre­dicted the tally will climb. An es­ti­mated 800,000 new cases of E. coli-re­lated di­ar­rhea are ex­pected to emerge, as tem­per­a­tures are pro­jected to in­crease by 0.8 C be­tween 2016 and 2035.

Cli­mate change has led to a global in­crease in the trans­mis­sion of dengue fever by the mos­quito Aedes ae­gypti of around 9.4 per­cent rel­a­tive to 1950 lev­els, ac­cord­ing to The Lancet re­port in 2017.

Aedes ae­gypti is not found in Hong Kong but the city’s preva­lent species Aedes al­bopic­tus is also a car­rier.

“The global warm­ing tem­per­a­tures are ex­pand­ing the fa­vor­able habi­tats mos­qui­toes can en­croach on and in­fect hu­mans by bit­ing them,” ex­plained Field­ing.

Even a milder sce­nario RCP 4.5 could still be dev­as­tat­ing. It’s a sit­u­a­tion that still arises as­sum­ing CO2 emis­sions peak around 2040 and de­cline by 2100, lim­it­ing tem­per­a­ture in­creases to 2 C above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els by 2100 — just as stip­u­lated in the Paris Cli­mate Agree­ment. Un­der that con­di­tion, the an­nual mean tem­per­a­ture in Hong Kong is still pro­jected to rise by 1-2 C by 2060, and by 1.5-3 C by 2100, rel­a­tive to the 1986-2005 av­er­age of 23.3 C.

Gabriel Lau Ngar-che­ung, pro­fes­sor of the De­part­ment of Ge­og­ra­phy and Re­source Man­age­ment at the CUHK, said the city’s poor­est are the least adap­tive to the warm­ing cli­mate.

“A 1 C in­crease af­fects the well-off only marginally. They could turn the air-con cooler as they like,” Lau said. “But for peo­ple liv­ing at the sub­sis­tence level, it could mean real suf­fer­ing as they coudn’t af­ford re­sources like air-con­di­tion­ing to ward against the dam­ag­ing heat.”

The un­cer­tain fu­ture

Tao and Lee hang around places only within walk­ing dis­tance. They rarely travel out­side Sham Shui Po. Lack of money doesn’t al­low it.

The mother, who does not have per­ma­nent res­i­dency, stays in Hong Kong on a Visit Visa. She is for­bid­den to work in town.

Lee slipped on his new sneak­ers be­fore head­ing to the com­mu­nity cen­ter of the So­ci­ety for Com­mu­nity Or­ga­ni­za­tion, an NGO that has pro­vided fur­ni­ture, com­puter equip­ment, food and a refuge from the heat to the family for years.

“I cher­ish this pair of shoes. They cost over HK$100,” he said look­ing down at the shoes, his fea­tures lit up with a fond smile and an ex­pres­sion of awe. As win­ter is com­ing in, his mother bought him the new pair so he can prance around the bas­ket­ball court — Lee’s fa­vorite ac­tiv­ity which he had sat out due to the ex­treme heat sick­en­ing him in sum­mers.

Tao smiled back, watch­ing her son pa­rade around. Silently she’s wor­ried that Lee has be­come phys­i­cally de­bil­i­tated by the hot sum­mers. She is be­set by free-float­ing anx­i­eties, like whether he might be sick on an exam day, caus­ing his aca­demic stand­ing to crash. That is a worry that casts a long shadow far into the fu­ture over the en­dur­ing hope that Lee’s suc­cess in his school­ing may help them break out of the lin­ger­ing cy­cle of poverty.

In the years to come, the sun is likely to blaze even hot­ter. The suf­fer­ing of Lee’s family may in­crease, along with 1.35 mil­lion other Hong Kong res­i­dents strug­gling be­low the poverty line.

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