KUALA LUMPUR, May 21 — If there was an award for the cleanest wet market in the Klang Valley, not many would qualify. Maybe just a handful of small neighbourhood wet markets.
The rest cannot even be described as “tolerable” as rats, heaps of food waste and murky puddles have become synonymous with the majority of wet markets in the Klang Valley.
Unless something is done soon to correct this “filthy situation”, Jalan Othman Wet Market Traders’ Association secretary Sathiya Seelan said wet markets are bound to have fewer customers when the conditional movement control order (CMCO) is lifted completely.
“As it is the younger generation who don’t like to visit wet markets because of the dirty and humid environment.
“They prefer to shop at hypermarkets and now that there is fear stemming from the Covid-19 outbreak, it will keep away more customers,” he said.
A former electronic and electrical engineer, Sathiya left his previous job to help with his family business at the market and has been in the business for more than 10 years.
A shift in shopping habits
He said he noticed that online deliveries for groceries have picked up during the Covid-19 outbreak as the public are advised to avoid public places including the wet market unless it is absolutely essential.
“It has been two months since the country has observed the MCO, and by now everyone is used to ordering food and even groceries online.
“If the condition of the wet markets in the Klang Valley does not improve, it is not a surprise that eventually nobody will want to visit wet markets anymore.
“Why go through the trouble of driving to the market and then having to put up with dirty conditions in the markets?” he told Malay Mail.
Sathiya was referring to the recent spotlight on Klang Valley markets such as the Jalan Othman wet market or popularly known PJ Old Town market, Jalan Raja Bot Market, Chow Kit Market, Kuala Lumpur Wholesale Market and Pudu Wet Market, after a spike in Covid-19 cases were detected at these markets and their surrounding neighbourhoods.
Among other things, Sathiya cited long-standing problems linked to hygiene and cleanliness, such as drainage problems caused by no waste management and insufficient after-operations cleaning.
“Stall owners also have the responsibility to keep their stations clean, but not all of them do. They don’t bother to clean up thoroughly after each day’s operations, leaving unwashed stains behind.
“Over time, that is a contributing factor to a filthy market environment,” Sathiya said.
He added that Malaysians should not accept this as “normal” and instead push for implementation of better systems at all wet markets.
He referred to wet markets overseas, comparing their cleanliness to local markets, indicating that Malaysian wet markets have to achieve higher standards of cleanliness.
“We have to do something and we have to do it fast. Otherwise our business will be taken over by online platforms,” he said.
Lack of hygiene awareness
Kuala Lumpur Vegetable Wholesalers Association president Wong Keng Fatt said wet markets are filthy due to a lack of hygiene awareness among those who work there.
Despite routine cleaning done by Alam Flora, Wong said it was not sufficient when traders and workers at the market do not have good hygiene practices.
“Some are contributed by traders not cleaning up their respective stalls and some due to migrant workers’ unhygienic habits.
“At the same time, on a daily basis, with the wholesale market running at 100 per cent capacity, there would be 10,000 people moving in and out of the market.
“It is quite challenging to keep the premises as clean as we wish it to be,” he said.
“Of course not all migrant workers have poor hygiene practices, but because there are so many who are working in the market, this has contributed to the unpleasant environment at the market as well,” he said.
Fewer migrant workers the solution?
Could hiring fewer foreign workers lead to cleaner markets?
Wong said markets under the Federal Territories’ jurisdiction have been prohibited from hiring migrant workers, but they are now facing problems with local hires.
“We are not allowed to hire any more migrant workers at the market at the moment, but we are faced with a different problem now.
“Earlier we took in a group of 50 B40 workers and now, only two are left. The rest have disappeared without even giving notice. Some worked for a few hours and demanded to be paid and never came back after,” he said.
Wong said with this current situation at the market, the market will take at least six months to recover and operate at full capacity.
Meanwhile, a Bangladeshi worker at the Pudu Wet Market said markets will not be dirty if no one comes to the market.
“How can you possibly keep a market clean when there are customers moving around all the time?
“Unless nobody comes to the market, then it will be clean,” said the worker who requested anonymity.
He added that the only time the market is clean is when it is shut and recently during sanitisation works done to prevent the further spreading of the coronavirus.
Earlier this month, Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa said the image of the Kuala Lumpur Wholesale Market must be upgraded after the enhanced movement control order (EMCO) in the area is lifted.
He said the condition of the market must improve, with foreign workers in the area required to register with the relevant authorities.
Annuar added that he is compelled to find a solution to spruce up the wholesale market, because as a developed nation, Malaysia cannot have a wholesale market looking like one from a third-class country.