Community & Education Environment & Health Hong Kong

Doctors Without Borders criticised for leaving trash and causing a nuisance to Lamma residents during fundraiser

Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, has been criticised for leaving behind large quantities of waste and causing a nuisance to the local community on Lamma Island following a fundraising event on Sunday.

The fundraiser, called “MSF Orienteering Competition,” was attended by around 4,600 people, MSF said. However, the charity came under fire after people posted pictures on social media showing cardboard and other materials being thrown away.

MSF waste

Used materials left behind by organisers. Photo: Fong Ping, via Facebook.

Event personnel were seen dumping drinking water into the sea.

Photo: Judy March, via Facebook.

In 2015, a volunteer at the same event also complained about the waste it generated. She said her job was to give out bottled water to participants in paper cups.

The volunteer said at the time: “Why didn’t participants bring their own water bottles? Why didn’t the organiser use water dispensers?”

msf race water bottles

The 2015 race. Photo: Denise Kwok, via Facebook.

Environmentalist Chu Hon-keung of the Green Earth told HK01 that it should not be difficult for an established charity like MSF to minimise waste. He criticised MSF for failing to take measures to protect the environment, despite having urged participants to do the same over the last two years.

Local community

There was also criticism of the event’s impact on the local community. Online commenters complained that participants ran on sidewalks and shouted at pedestrians who blocked their way.

A person who identified as a Lamma resident wrote on MSF’s Facebook page that the small island, with a population of a few thousand, is not a suitable venue for the large-scale event.

“Some residents couldn’t eat at restaurants [because of the large number of visitors]. Even if they bought takeout, they had to avoid bumping into participants who were running past them,” she said.

MSF race

The 2017 race. Photo: MSF, via Facebook.

She further criticised the charity for arranging special ferry services only in the morning but not after the event was completed, resulting in long queues at the pier.

Apology

MSF has apologised for “failing to ensure that all waste and materials are properly handled” after the event.

Its spokesperson told HKFP that it made arrangements with the authorities in advance to ensure public hygiene, including placing trash bins near the competition site. However, it said, the event contractor failed to dispose of garbage in the designated area.

“This allowed someone, who was certainly not part of our team or the contractor’s, to rifle through and then scatter material onto the pathway,” it said. “We apologise for the inconvenience to local residents.”

On the dumping of drinking water, the spokesperson said MSF used water stations instead of giving out bottled water. But it said water suppliers would only retrieve empty water bottles, and hence the staff had to dispose of unused drinking water.

MSF water waste

Water stations at the race. Photo: MSF, via Facebook.

“Learning from this years’ experience, we will try our best in [the] future to find ways to make good use of the rest of the water,” it said.

The spokesperson added that minimising impact on local communities was a top priority. It said it asked the ferry company to increase the ferry frequency to every 10-15 minutes during peak hours, with an average waiting time of 20 minutes.

It acknowledged that Lamma residents might still be affected by the event despite various measures. It said it hoped to reduce impact on local communities in future events.

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Doctors Without Borders criticised for leaving trash and causing a nuisance to Lamma residents during fundraiser