Poor sanitation at Homa Bay key fish market sparks disease fear

Homa Bay town

A fish monger in Homa Bay town draws water from Lake Victoria at Pier Market last Friday. Some of the traders have expressed concern over poor hygiene in the area.  

Photo credit: George Odiwuor | Nation Media Group

Any food inspector or public health officer would recommend closure of Pier market in Homa Bay town.

The market, popularly known for selling fish, is nowhere close to meeting food safety standards. Its state exposes traders and consumers to the risk of food poisoning as water used to wash the fish is sourced directly from Lake Victoria, which is also the dump site for fish waste and raw sewerage from the market.

Fish traders said it has been long, more than a year, since they last used clean water from the taps to prepare fish.

“We’ve been using water directly from the lake even though it’s dirty and produces a foul smell. We have no option because the county government has failed to supply the commodity,” Ms Elizabeth Otieno, a fish trader, says.

Marabou stork

When the Nation visited the beach where the market is located, the area was filled with all manner of waste, attracting hordes of marabou stork, flies and other scavenging creatures.

County public health officer John Kabasa said he is not aware that the market is dirty.

“I’ll visit the place and assess it for myself. As far as I’m concerned, there’s water supplied to the market for traders,” he says.

According to Ms Otieno, the only government officers they see are revenue collectors. “It’s as if we have been neglected by the government. We have been paying taxes hoping for better services but we’re yet to see the benefits of paying taxes,” she says.

Wooden racks

In 2018, the National Government Affirmative Action Fund, under the leadership of Gladys Wanga, spent Sh8 million to build an integrated fish market at the beach.

Ms Wanga, who was then serving as the County Woman Representative, oversaw the building of the shaded structure and counter tops for hygienic preparation of the fish. A cold storage facility was also set up at the market for fish traders.

The works, however, did not include waste management and water provision.

Over the years, the number of traders has increased and the market cannot accommodate them all.

Some traders now sell their fish from wooden racks at the edge of the lake, where all the waste is deposited.

“The environment around the market is unhealthy for traders and the public,” Ms Otieno says.

In addition, there are no toilet facilities, compelling sellers and buyers to relieve themselves in the open around the market.

Disease outbreak

According to Ms Mary Mbago, the market used to be cleaned by youths working under the Kazi Mtaani programme.

“Since the cleaning exercise was suspended, no one has ever cleaned this market. It’s just a matter of time before a disease outbreak is reported,” she said.

She cautioned traders against using water directly from the lake, saying it's likely to lead to diarrhoeal diseases, among other ailments.


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