Hong Kong’s air quality is notoriously bad. It deteriorated in the late 1990s as road traffic increased, huge infrastructure works were undertaken across the territory, and southern China developed at full speed.
The HK Government twisted itself in knots as it ducked the hard work of tackling the pollution it could control, blamed China, and then realised who they’d just blamed. The air quality index was considered a joke by the press, official monitoring took place on top of skyscrapers (where the quality was bad enough for the government to issue warnings with increasing frequency), while the public choked on filthy air at street level.
Chris Patten’s first priority on landing at Kai Tak airport and smelling the open sewer running into the ‘fragrant harbour’ was to have first world sewage network and treatment installed for the first time. (Tung Che Hwa’s first priority following the handover was to exchange treatment for a longer pipe out into the South China Sea.)
Cholera and Yellow Fever were not unusual in the summer months. A regular feature of the summer news was the water tankers supplying the fish restaurants in downtown HK (where Chinese custom is to chose live ‘fresh’ fish swimming in a tank) being caught sucking up water from the harbour.