The women wailed while others remained in a state of shock as they watched ferocious fire razing down the source of their livelihood – their goods and structures.
They refused to be consoled as they rolled on the ground, wishing that the earth would just swallow them up rather than allow them to go through the trauma of losing their lifelong savings and investments within minutes.
Pain, despair and misery were the expressions on the faces of the men who could not express their pain in tears as they looked at the damage caused by the devastating fire.
This was the atmosphere at the various markets across the country, mostly made up of wooden structures, which were destroyed by fires last year.
Although there have been fires in some markets in the country over the years, last year’s fires were alarming and fierce. These included the ones at Kantamanto, Makola Shopping Mall, Makola Number Two, Kumasi Central Market and Dome Market.
“Markets not safe”
But exactly a year after the incidents, traders seem to have moved on from their tragedy and everything seems to be normal at the markets.
Traders seemed busy and were calling customers to patronise their goods as usual when the Daily Graphic visited the Kantamanto and Makola Number Two markets and the Makola shopping mall.
At the Kantamanto Market, the hub for second-hand wear, traders had rebuilt the wooden structures that got burnt and some of them were using umbrellas and canopies as their sheds. Although they have left some alleys, these are too small for fire engines to access the markets in times of fire outbreak.
The situation was not different at the Makola Shopping Mall and Makola Number Two Market where the wooden structures had been rebuilt.
In an interview, some of the traders said although they lived in fear, they did not have any other choice than to rebuild the wooden structures, restart their businesses and earn some money to take care of their families.
Madam Vida Koranteng, who plies her trade at the Kantamanto Market, said she lost about four bales of clothes, estimated at GH¢3,000, to the fire.
“With the small savings I had at the bank and support from family and friends, I was able to get back into business but since I started, business has not been going well at all,” she said and added that most of the traders had bought the bales to keep them but since they lost them in the fire, it had been very difficult for them.
When asked if she felt safe at the market, Madam Koranteng said, “Every day, I am grateful to God because I live in so much fear that the fire could come again.”
She added that the market was also not convenient because they were exposed to the sun and whenever there was rainfall the situation became worse.
“I invested huge sums of money which I intended to use to travel in the second-hand clothes business, hoping that by the time I am ready to travel, I would have made some profit but I lost all the millions of cedis within a few hours”, a victim of the country’s incessant market fires, Madam Dora Kyerwaa, lamented. She also expressed fear about operating at the market.
“We really want the market to be rebuilt because we live in so much fear and anxiety. But we are also scared of losing the land or even our space to the authorities or other people,” Mrs Faustina Tetteh said.
This year, the Kumasi Central Market has experienced two fire outbreaks, giving the impression that the market is not safe.
A recall of incidents
Traders at the Kantamanto Market had their share of the mishap when an inferno swept through the market, destroying almost everything in sight. It was followed by the fires at the Makola Number Two, Dome, Makola Number One and the Kumasi Central markets. The devastation and deprivation caused by the market fires, according to reports, led to the death of some traders.
While some banks paid insurance claims to their customers who lost their wares to the fires, the government also supported the over 7,000 traders with GH¢2 million.
The President, Mr John Dramani Mahama, directed the Ministry of Finance to release money for the rebuilding and rehabilitation of these markets.
Apart from that, the government also called for international assistance from the United States government to enable it to get to the cause of the market fires, while the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) audited and conducted investigations into the circumstances that led to the fires.
The GNFS reports indicated that the markets were congested and had no alleys. Other causes were the presence of mixed combustibles, overaged wiring, illegal connections, power outages, unprofessionals being engaged for the wiring, faulty electrical wires, overloading of electrical power sockets, cooking in the markets and negative human behaviour.
The GNFS therefore recommended that local assemblies should implement and enforce the guidelines to protect the markets against fire outbreaks.
As part of the recommendations, the GNFS asked local assemblies to ensure that the markets were safe from potential fire risks by rewiring them and providing hydrants, fire posts, alleys, fire defence systems, and communication facilities to call the Fire Service, among other things, at the markets to make the fight against market fires easy.
Earlier this year, a tour by the GNFS to the Kantamanto Market to check if the recommendations made had been implemented revealed that its recommendations had been flouted. It expressed the concern that traders had returned to operating in wooden structures which are easily razed down by fire in the absence of hydrants, fire posts, communication facilities and alleys, which are recommended by the service. The service warned that more fires should be expected if the recommendations were not implemented.
The Greater Accra Fire Officer, Mr Kwame Kwarteng, who led the team to visit the market, said the service faced serious challenges because the various stakeholders did not give it the needed co-operation. For instance, he said, during the fire outbreak at Kantamanto, the GNFS had a challenging time getting access to the area to fight the fire.
The Spokesperson for the Hawkers and Vendors Association of Ghana, Mr Ohene Mensah Kakra, made a passionate appeal to the local authorities, including the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, to modernise the markets.
“We cannot continue to lose our livelihoods all the time for the government to give us money; it will not solve the situation. The government should build and renovate these markets into modern ones to be on the safer side,” he said.
The Queenmother of the Greater Accra Regional Market Traders Association, Madam Mercy Nii Gyan, at a diagnostic workshop organised by the Ashiedu Keteke Sub-metro in Accra last month, also appealed to traders to allow the government to rebuild the markets to ensure their safety.
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