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Health or wealth – markets of convenience


DESPITE ALL THE HYPE about liquefied natural gas and the mineral boom, times are still tough for most people in Papua New Guinea.

One can see from a stroll through any neighbourhood in the capital city how the informal sector plays its part in enhancing the livelihood of the people.

Most back or front yards of homes have little tables where families sell everything from buai (betel nut) and cigarettes to the more appetising fresh fruits, kumu (greens) and vegetables.

In fact, some of what you can get at most designated markets are just at your (or your neighbour’s) doorstep.

For many people, certain markets have become unsafe due to the unchallenged presence of criminals, thus other alternatives are sought.

Home front selling I suppose is permissible, but it is the ‘markets of convenience’ at certain city bus stops or shop fronts that have been a concern to many city residents.

Such unplanned and undesignated locations for buying and selling are usually unhygienic and hazardous to the health of residents. In fact, I have just heard that the our national capital district council has banned such markets of convenience, but whether people adhere to it is another thing altogether.

Taking a route 11 PMV bus from Tabari\4 Mile will lead you to the bus stop just outside the North Waigani Stop and Shop supermarket.

The bus will stop right at a thriving market place where stalls are lined up along the side of the road and the usual cheap Chinese products like perfumes, batteries, torches and other interesting items are sold.

The aroma of sizzling barbeques entice your tastebuds, not unlike the spicy scents of the famous hawker centres in Singapore where fried noodles and other delicacies fill the air.

Back at the North Waigani bus stop, though, you will notice 44-gallon drum ovens lined side by side as vendors fry lamb flaps, sausages, pork, kaukau (sweet potatoes) and banana to sell to their hungry customers.

The cheapest drinks are also to be found there as canned Coke sells for just K2 while the 500ml plastic bottles will go for K3. Other items on the menu usually include boiled eggs, scones and hot dogs. Then of course, there is the ever present buai, PNG’s very own dessert!

While the provision of such cheap food is welcome, a quick look around the vicinity is enough to make one sick.

The place is littered with rubbish like plastic bags, newspapers that were used to wrap food in, plastic bottles, decaying food and buai spittle.

The drain that runs behind the market also acts as a toilet, especially for small children, thus bringing a stench to the nostrils.

Walking across the nearby bridge, one will notice more food stalls on the opposite side, right adjacent to the second hand clothes market. Once again, the appearance of filth and garbage is obvious.

However, a visit to the properly designated Waigani market just a few metres away will yield a completely different picture. The market car park is secure and the market is clean and tidy. Vendors sell fresh fruit and vegetables in clean stalls and the presence of security personnel is quite comforting. Indeed, a vast difference.

The market at the North Waigani bus stop is not an isolated case. Many such markets of convenience are to be found all over the city.

They help vendors make a living and give customers a chance to buy cheap lunch. But the problem is that the price for such convenience will be paid by the detriment in health of both vendor and customer.

While it may seem that the danger of that deadly sickness, cholera, that ravaged through the country has subsided, people should never forget the ferocity of its attack and should therefore be always on guard.

While the National Capital District is beginning to deal with the situation, some provinces have taken a step ahead. One such province is the East New Britain Province whose standards in hygiene and the public selling of food are enviable.

Firstly, public chewing and spitting of buai is not allowed and one will always risk being caught by the authorities and charged. Even at markets like Kokopo Market where betel nut is sold, the chewing of the nuts is outlawed.

You buy, and then go home and chew in the privacy of your house. This is important as buai spittle can transmit germs and cause sickness.

However, it is in the area of fish sales that I admire the people of East New Britain. Vendors follow strict rules when selling fish. Smoked fish has to be wrapped in plastic prior to displaying for sale, while fresh fish is kept in an esky which is opened when the customer makes inquiries.

Their smoked fish, which the locals call solpis, are the best I’ve ever tasted. I recently went to Malaoro market in Port Moresby and, because I love smoked fish, bought some.

They are not wrapped in plastic and flies are kept at bay depending on the reflexes of the vendor (though you will notice she’s not always successful).

Because they were still quite warm (maybe due to the sun), I delved into one. When I got to the head, I found it was full of worms. That ruined my lunch and after I hastily regurgitated, a prompt decision was made ruling out any further purchases of smoked fish from all Port Moresby markets hitherto.

Moving to kaibars (local fast food restaurants), those in East New Britain are ventilated and have fly screen doors which are always kept shut, or they use curtains made out of strips of plastic or rubber to keep the flies out. These are some practices that should be enforced here in the capital.

In any case, the choice for a healthy future should be the concern of every Papua New Guinean. While the authorities need to assess and act on the hygiene situations at the proper markets, markets of convenience and kaibars, people must realise that their health should not be sacrificed on the altar of the pursuance of wealth.

Simply put, we cannot enjoy our wealth if we are not healthy. With a bit of common sense and adherence to basic hygiene rules and practices, we can enjoy both.

Seik Pitoi (50) was born in Port Moresby.  He was a public servant but is now a pastor with the United Church. He has always had a passion to write and spent his spare time writing short stories and poems. He contributed to the now defunct weekly newspaper The Independent, which had a section for short stories and poems, and also did freelancing, writing for both daily newspapers, the Post Courier and The National, doing personality profiles, travel articles and other articles of interest. While now a full time minister he still makes time available to write


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harry topham

To matters of sanitation problems in the settlements around Port Moresby it would be pointless to state the bleeding obvious, as the retort would be “No money available
However money is not the real issue as the answer is quite simple “We have a serious problem, Lets get resolved and fix it”.

People power is a powerful tool to effect social change and all that is required is for one or two good people to stand up, break the cycle of apathy and initiate change through engagement with their fellow residents with the added incentive that it is their project thus engendering a sense of ownership.
A while back I recall watching a documentary on similar problems existing in certain African countries where similar uncontrolled urban drift had resulted in similar social problems emerging.
In this case the program centred on a group of people who eked out a meagre living scavenging around the dumps.
Fed up with crime problems that had developed and realising that the authorities were unwilling or unable to help them, a group of residents formed their own town council and initiated their own set of rules covering social behaviour and chased away those rascals who would not comply with the social cohesion expected.
Before the advent of modern days waste effluent disposal systems such as sewerage systems were in place other more primitive methods such as pit latrines and removable night soil disposal methods were adopted.
In this case in urban PNG what would happen if a group of young unemployed youths were given the right tools and engaged on wages to construct suitably designed deep pit latrines without reference to the authorities.
Although not the real answers to solving human waste disposal it surely would be more preferable and safer than the current unsatisfactory and unhealthy waste disposal system through open drains that now is in use.

Mrs Barbara Short

An excellent essay, Seik.

I have been doing a lot of family history research over the past few years for a book that I am writing, and found my great, great grandfather, Robert Harris (1796-1882), who became the Law Clerk to the Lord Mayor of London in about 1828, was very much involved with the sanitary reforms to the City of London in those times.

During the 1830s and 1840s there were three massive waves of contagious diseases in England, which included influenza, typhus, typhoid and cholera.

Robert Harris worked amongst the urban poor and could see that they were getting sicker more frequently and dying at a younger age than the better-off, and that "filth and disease" seemed to be causally related.

He became the founder of a society of philanthropists and wrote over 100 letters on the subject of Public Health, Disease and Crime, to the "Times", "Despatch" and other journals. Back in those days in London the ordinary people did not have a vote and there was no government health department.

He ended up spending more that a year of his leisure time writing up Chadwick's report "On the General Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Classes in Great Britain", which was published in 1842 and shocked the reading public and was very controversial.(you can read it online today!)

It took the British many years to solve their problems.
I guess, in those times London was much worse than Port Moresby.

For the sake of his family's health Robert emigrated to Sydney with his wife and 9 children in 1852 and spent the next 30 years, in a voluntary capacity, helping to improve Sydney.

He always found the Press in Sydney would help him to "promote public health, temperance, amelioration of the condition of the poor, and the establishment of benefit societies."

He had a protracted crusade against sanitary abuses in Sydney.

I wish you well with your writing. PNG needs people like you who can understand the health problems in the growing towns and cities of PNG, and write about it in the press, and offer appropriate solutions.

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