|Recovery slow and painful one month after Douala market fire|
|Written by Aime T. Tarh, The Standard Tribune|
|Saturday, 23 January 2010 10:23|
DOUALA—Maimouna does not know how she would ever get back into business. Like many traders in the central market here, her once flourishing business lays in ruin.
One month after fire gutted parts of Marché Central, the largest market in the sub-region just before Christmas, recovery has been difficult and painful for victims.
Authorities estimated that more than 200 shops and some CFA120 billion in property were leveled.
As time passes by and with very little happening, frustration is growing and the finger pointing has already started.
“I blame the government for the losses,” Maimouna says, declining to give her full name because she fears she might be targeted. “It is the government’s fault,” she adds after a pensive pause.
Firefighters came late and were helpless as years on investments went up in smoke, she says in a mix of French and pidgin English, adding that much could have been saved if only firefighters had not come late and ill-equipped.
Problems in fighting the fire included short supply of deoxygenated water and the low pressure from fire fighting trucks, which made the task look aimless.
Reinforcements from the Douala port, the airport and the police made little difference to the ravaging inferno, which went on for a full day.
“The team was incompetent,” Maimouna, who lost her shop, holds. “It was difficult but traders had to bear their pain as the fire razed on.”
The cause of the fire is still being debated. But many believe it was sparked by short circuits generated by illegal electrical connection.
It came just as shops had been stuffed for the Christmas shopping season, which generates the most frenzy in the year.
Most, if not all of the shops here have no insurance against incidents like that and traders have to rely on themselves to get along.
The government is providing temporary stalls but not cash for victims to start off anew.
Many like Maimouna hope it never happened, or at least, that the city could have been there in time to scale back the damage.
“In a city of about seven million people it is unimaginable that there is no helicopter to deal with situations like this,” she says. “What would have happened if people were trapped in there?”
Luckily there were none. A few people sustained injuries either freighting the fire or trying to save their shops and were sent to hospitals in the city. Most are out and the rest are most likely to make it.
Firefighters complained that their task had been made difficult by the “complex” nature of the market, where makeshift structures dot everywhere and make passage difficult.
When the fire started on 15 December, Maimouna was at home. It was the most unfortunate day in her life, she says.
She had just taken a loan worth about 40 million francs to take advantage of the peak shopping season. Now she has to pay back after losing all.
The Douala central market was inaugurated in 1982 and was meant to house 2000 shops. But the number had since tripled to about 6000.
On the eve of the fire, city authorities launched an operation to demolish makeshift stalls that had been erected on the peripheries of the market as a measure to restore order.
Since the incident, authorities, including the small and medium size enterprises minister, have visited the market to evaluate the aftermath. The government says the market would be re-built.
But in the meantime, provisionary stalls valued at CFA45 million are being constructed to house victims of the fire. It seems, that is the only help they are getting.
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