Poor designs in the various markets in Malawi have been blamed for the recent spate of market fires, the Malawi Union for the Informal Sector has said. It said the inadequate space for fire brigades was the main reason more goods are lost to infernos.
The latest market to fall voctim to such fires is Kachere in Blantyre. THe market went up in flames as September, 2010 draws to a close, marking a bad start to end of year preparations.
The union said city and town assembly’s tendencies to choose cheap labour over quality workmanship was bringing uncertainty to most vendors plying their trade in the country’s markets. Most informal entrepreneurs in the informal sector were reducing their investments for fear of losing everything in case of fires.
The General Secretary of the union, Davies Chimombo, said local government officials were partly to blame because they continued to collect fees in markets that were poorly designed. He said this gives vendors false hopes that, should there be fire, they will be compensated.
“Why are town and city assemblies still collecting market fees in markets that are poorly designed? The case in point is Ndirande market where, we are told, fire brigade personnel failed to extinguish the fire in the early stages because of market impassability. This is reducing the level of investment on part of vendors and has implications on the national economy since vendors are living hand to mouths lives due to the little profits they get from the equally little investment they inject into their businesses,” said Chimombo.
Chimombo also blamed insurance companies for exacerbating post-fire losses, saying unfair insurance policies were discouraging non-formal players from insuring their goods. He said insurers favoured big players at the expense of small traders, thus increasing uncertainty for these vendors as they feel sidelined in most economic recovery programmes.
“But vendors should not be worried because we are starting an International Federation for Workers Education Association (Ifewa) programme, with funding from the British Department for International Development, aimed at linking vendors to insurance companies, as well as drilling them on their rights and how to avoid market fires. Some of the vendors keep combustible substances, which is bad for their business in case of fires,” added Chimombo.
His sentiments on poor market infrastructure designs comes barely a week after Malawi Bureau of Standards Acting Director General Davlin Chokazinga bemoaned the lack of such a policy in Malawi, saying the development was impinging on investment prospects.
He said it was time Malawi, like most of the Southern African Development Community member states, developed standards for buildings and other infrastructure to curtail the economic consequences of disasters like fires and earthquakes.
The recent spate of market infernos has also worried Local Government Minister Anna Namathanga Kachikho, who said his ministry will embark on a programme of markets’ registration to ensure that vendors sell goods in safe markets, as well as helping in post fire recovery for affected people because it will become easy to compensate them.
The fire that gutted Ndirande market, located in the most populous township in Blantyre, is the forth within four months, raising questions over merchandise safety in Malawian markets.