FRUIT and vegetable traders at Manama's biggest market have issued an urgent call for help, saying a dramatic drop in business due to 14 months of political turmoil had compounded problems they have been facing for years. Instability since February last year has driven away as much as 60 to 70 per cent of their business at the Manama Central Market, according to a senior representative of Bahrain's agriculture sector.
Once a bustling hive of activity until late in the evening, market stalls are now closing as early as midday because people are too afraid to go for shopping there, said traders.
Chronic conditions in the fly-infested market are doing little to win back customers and an urgent appeal for support went out as senior officials from the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) visited the market yesterday.
However, the BCCI has vowed to take up their case and is supporting a revamp of the market.
"Their condition is appalling and they deserve a better deal," said BCCI board member and food and agriculture committee chairman Ibrahim Al Daayasi during the visit.
"For as long as we can remember there has been no development, traders have been using the same facilities and they have had no government help.
"We now want to highlight their plight so that something concrete comes up and they get a better deal."
It's impossible to ignore the overpowering stench of rotting food and vegetables, sweat and sewerage as you enter the market, which is a health and safety inspector's worst nightmare.
Visitors have to dodge potholes and even an open manhole before entering the market, where the floor is slippery and broken - and hordes of flies cover the food.
Stalls are also broken and water used for spraying on the produce is stored in dirty uncovered cans.
"The situation is now so bad we ourselves dread coming here," said one trader.
However, Mr Al Daayasi said market traders were not only facing issues connected to hygiene and general cleanliness, but also wanted an air-conditioned facility, cold storage areas, proper resting places and better infrastructure.
He pledged the BCCI would raise their plight with the government.
"We are now hoping to get our proposal for the revamp of the area accepted by the government," he added.
Mr Al Daayasi, who is also chairman of a joint committee between the BCCI and Customs, said the inadequate facilities meant food trucks from outside Bahrain were reluctant to deliver goods there.
"They ask for 50 per cent more if they have to come to Bahrain so traders have to send their own trucks to get supplies," he revealed.
"This drives up costs considerably and affects margins."
The Manama Central Market is located a short distance from the Al Farooq Junction, which is the former site of the GCC (Pearl) Roundabout.
It is currently under tight security, but events there last year have put people off visiting the area, said Mr Al Daayasi.
"Earlier this market remained busy till late evening, but now everyone leaves at noon," he said.
"The common man is not coming to the market anymore and prefers going to air-conditioned supermarkets - not only because that is more comfortable, but also because people are scared."
He also admitted that the BCCI had not done enough to support traders at the market - with nothing done since the last official visit in 2006.
"A lot of promises were made then and traders were happy," he said.
"Six years down the line, nothing has happened - they still work in the same environment.
"In fact, things have got worse now."
However, BCCI chairman Dr Essam Fakhro - who also took part in the visit - vowed that action would be taken this time.
"We have to make these traders comfortable and have to convince the government they need better facilities," he said.
He now plans to convene a meeting of traders' representatives to determine exactly what they need.
"We will then take these proposals to the government and press for their implementation," added Dr Fakhro.