Zimbabwe: ILO, Nssa Boost for Informal Sector

1 February 2021

A derelict ablution facility that is home to maggots and releases a choking stench serves 112 able-bodied and 61 physically challenged traders operating at an informal Food Market in Chivhu.

The facility also serves long distance travellers plying various routes from the Mashonaland East town.

Situated at the heart of Chivhu town, the hustling and bustling informal Food Market's toilet functions without running water because traders have been unable to pay for the pre-paid water. But while the traders must pay for the water, travellers - who also use the same facilities for free - are making it unaffordable for the traders as they have to bear the costs.

Chivhu Council is reported to have attempted to solve the issue by working out a system of how many litres of water a trader needs per day and resolved that traders should be able to contribute as little as $10 per day towards the water bill.

The system has not worked because the facility is used by paying traders and travellers using the bus terminus. This has left the market with no water source, thereby compromising basic hygiene practices, which are evermore critical in the midst of a deadly global pandemic that is spreading like wildfire. Traders at this market mainly peddle fresh farm produce and other consumables such as solar lights, clay products and paraffin. The environment they operate in leaves a lot to be desired and exposes them to rain, winds and other harsh weather conditions.

Vice chairperson of the Food Market Committee Viva Goremusandu said "the toilets are cleaned twice a day by council workers during the week using water that is delivered by a tractor but during weekends they fetch water, clean the toilets and sprinkles ash to keep the fowl smell and flies at bay." At times she has been forced to do this without proper protective materials or detergents and has no choice since her stall is close to the toilet and the odour chases away customers. A recent tour at the Chivhu Food Market revealed the urgent need for ablution facilities as well as other amenities that are critical in the prevention of the spreading of Covid-19 and other diseases. The pandemic poses serious threats to the informal economy, which already faced significant decent work deficits before the highly infectious virus hit. The work practice in local informal food markets involves significant contact between individuals at close proximity. The current conditions do not promote physical distancing which has proven to be the most effective way to break the chain of spread of Covid-19. The food supply chain usually includes people coming from different geographical areas and this poses a risk of geographical spread of the disease.

The National Social Security Authority (NSSA) in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) are making interventions to improve to operating environment of informal sector players.

Said NSSA chief OSH and Rehab Centre Dr Betty Nyereyegona:

"For long NSSA had been concentrating on the formal sector yet the informal sector also required attention. The authority realised that the informal sector needed to be equipped with the requisite knowledge in safety and health issues".

She further stated that the authority will work with the traders to come up with solutions to challenges that are bedevilling them.

Ward 9 Councillor Christopher Muchenje, who is responsible for the area that covers the Food Market, acknowledged that the situation was posing a health threat to the traders but said "a pre-paid metre was installed at the market after Council had cleared a huge water debt that had been accrued over a long period of time by the traders."

Councillor Muchenje said he was confident that the challenge can be overcome if the market leadership and the Council put their heads together. The informal sector in Zimbabwe is growing in leaps and bounds resulting in most formal sectors formulating strategies to capture this untapped market which has vast potential.

Currently a huge chunk of the economy operates within the informal sector and are contributing 48 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). NSSA in partnership with ILO have identified markets in Bulawayo, Chinhoyi and Chivhu that will be capacitated with requisite knowledge about Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) as well as decent shelters they can operate from.

Through the informal sector Covid-19 response programme NSSA and ILO seek to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection and disease on informal food markets, improve informal sector traders and market visitors' access to safe water and sanitation, ensure sustainable information and knowledge dissemination for informal food market traders among other objectives.

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