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Burning Markets in Cameroon

21.03.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
The past few months have been trying months for many traders in Cameroon, as they had to stand by and watch their shops burn down to ashes as a result of recurrent fire outbreaks in some of the biggest markets in the country, especially in Douala, Yaoundé and Bamenda.

This is a phenomenon that traders, the government and administrative bodies have had to battle with for many years, without ever coming up with long lasting solutions, as there is news of a fire outbreak in a market around the country every now and then. It is worth noting that there have been 6 fire outbreaks in markets around the country in the last 3 weeks.

Markets that have been hit by fire recently

The most recent market fire outbreak is that which occurred in Marché Congo, Douala. The fire which broke out late on March 15 is the second in less than a month and the 33rd in 12 years. The most recent incidents destroyed about 230 shops. Another market in the city of Douala that is prone to fire outbreaks is the Bonamoussadi Market.

Another market which has been hit by fire recently is the Elig Edzoa Market in the Yaoundé II Sub-division. The fire broke out in the textile section of the market at about 3 am on March 4, 2019, and destroyed about 200 shops before the fire fighter could put it out.

The Bamenda food market was also visited by fire in November 2018. A portion of the market was completely destroyed. This was the third fire outbreak in less than 2 years.

The common thing about these market fires is that they always start in the middle of the night, making it difficult to mobilize help and fire fighters to put out the flames.

What causes these market fires?

Each time a market burns to aches in Cameroon, the highest the people get with regards to the causes of the fire is “unknown sources”. It has not been clearly stated in any report what the true cause of a fire outbreak in the market is. Nevertheless, there are a few suggestions to the possible causes of these fires.

Poor electrical connections top the list of causes of fire outbreaks in markets in Cameroon. Popular opinion suggests that these fires are caused by electrical malfunctions, as many traders connect electricity in very random manners which usually causes short circuiting, leading to fire outbreaks.

Others have blamed random burning of waste in and around the market. Most traders at the end of the day gather waste produced from the day’s activities and burn them not very far from their shops. Since most markets are built with wood, the fire from burning waste may trail plastic papers and wood splinters lying around to the main shops. The fire usually spread from one shop to another until complete portions of the market is destroyed.

Possible consequences

The most significant consequence of market fires is the loss of goods which put together could cost millions. Traders whose shops are destroyed by these fires lose their lives savings in goods. After these incidents, most traders are unable to pick up from where they were. Most of them end up jobless as they do not have the means to rebuild their shops and purchase new goods.

The environment also suffers from these fire outbreaks.  The smoke generated from these fires is filled with toxic material which can cause respiratory intoxication in the people exposed to it. This depends largely on the type of material consumed by the fire.

How authorities have reacted to these outbreaks

In a few cases, the government has been prompt in reacting to the destruction caused by fires in markets around the national territory. In the case of the February 24 fire outbreak in Marché Congo, the Minister of Territorial Administration Atanga Nji Paul, visited the market on Februay 28, with 32.5 million FCFA from the president of the republic as compensation for the victims of the fire.

Also, the Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute visited Marché Congo on Sunday March 17, after the fire outbreak on Friday. He announced a public private partnership to build an ultra-modern market on the site, with maximum security that will reduce the risk of fire outbreak, and the project is set to start in the weeks ahead.

Also, after section of the Elig-Edzoa Market was destroyed by fire on March 4, Minister Atanga Nji accompanied by the Government delegate to the Yaoundé city council Gilbert Tsimi Evouna visited the traders and gave each a sum of 200,000 from the government.

Despite the efforts of the government to alleviate the pain of the traders affected by these fire outbreaks, they have been met by criticisms as many believe the government is partial in their reaction to these calamities.

The news of government compensating traders in the French speaking regions has been poorly received by many in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country. Portions of markets in these regions, especially the Bamenda Food Market (which occurred before these recent fire outbreaks) have been completely razed by fires in the past months, but the government is yet to take any constructive actions with regards to the traders or rebuilding the markets.

Many residents in the Northwest and Southwest regions have also accused the government of not making efforts to reduce the sufferings of the people amid the on-going crisis which has left many handicapped and unable to provide for their basic needs.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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