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Bad Weather and State-Building: Effective Urban Water Management during a Drought in Colonial Hong Kong, 1963-1964

Author: Florence Mok and David Clayton

Florence Mok and David Clayton (2024), Environment and History,

This article contributes to the water history of Hong Kong by using new archival and media sources to investigate an under-explored water crisis. This crisis, which was caused by climatic and economic factors, was mitigated by emergency measures that lasted from May 1963 to June 1964. Without these emergency measures, which affected supply and demand for mains water, local reservoirs would have become exhausted. The article shows how Hong Kong government departments and residents – specifically the Public Works Department and over six hundred thousand domestic households – were resilient in the face of prolonged and severe water shortages. The article considers the preconditions for that resilience, arguing for the importance of the delivery of clean, cheap mains water as a public good; for prior experience of coping with water shortages; for magistrates punishing those caught wasting water; and for civil society organisations striving for environmental justice.

Keywords: Water conservancy, drought mitigation, resilience, state–society relation

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
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University of York, UK
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