Govt urged to consider inviting experts to help design well-planned markets

In the wake of the fire inferno that gutted down Lilongwe Central Market last, the public is asking Malawi’s Local Government Ministry, through the Lilongwe City Council to to consider “temporarily” closing the market to pave way in rebuilding it with well-planned design.

Malawian major city markets have been gutted down by uncontrollable fires in recent past in which their vendors have lost millions of kwachas.

Mostly, the fires start at night and by the time they are noticed,  it becomes very difficult to put out by the fire brigades.

And to make matters worse, the Lilongwe fire brigade arrived at the scene very late for market inferno and sources say this was so because their fire engines did not have fuel.

Winston Kenyatta Khamula, a governance advisor in decentralisation, sparked some debate on Facebook social media forum that if the Lilongwe City Council would consider “temporarily” close the market so that it can invite experts to help design well-planned and proper layouts with market sections that are separated from others to stop easy spreading of fires — compartmentalization.

“We also need to ensure that market design does not make it difficult for fire fighters to  access affected areas. We need a collaborative effort of planners, engineers, architects, builders, market vendors etc.

“You may also wish to note that the set up or design of our markets puts lives of traders and buyers at very great risk. If a fire broke out during the day, how do we safely evacuate people from the inferno? With narrow gates and no emergency or escape gates people would trample each other to death in that panic.

“Hence need to revisit plans and layout of markets,” said Khamula, a local government specialist and who once worked with Blantyre City Council as a town planning officer.

He also worked with GIZ as regional expert on  decentralisation in Cameroon and in Malawi as a devolution advisor under GIZ. He is presently working with ActionAid in Zambia.

His idea was perceived as good “but in the process, please consider where the market will be relocated to.

“In my understanding, that process of planning and implementantion may take a while — a month, two or up to a year. You can’t keep them waiting for that long,” said one response.

Reports on the ground suggested that the vendors themselves refused to take this advice that was put forward before.

“Currently they are busy reconstructing the way they know how,” a source said. “In real life there is nothing like temporally market, upon completion it will not be easy to  close the makeshift market…but with focus and commitment, there is need to speed up the process

“Focus and commitment is what we lack. I wish we had those principles instilled in us. We would not be in this situation in the first place,” one responded to Khamula’s observation.

In recent years, most major markets in Malawian cities have caught fire mostly due to negligence like leaving candles still alight and also due to electrical short circuit.

Due to the norm of the unplanned market structures, most electrical connections are illegal — done by uncertified electricians.

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