x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Cooking ban hurts workers

Barred from preparing food in their living quarters, labourers at a Dubai fruit and vegetable market seek an alternative.

Firemen attend the blaze at the potato store in Al Aweer market in Dubai.
Firemen attend the blaze at the potato store in Al Aweer market in Dubai.

DUBAI // Eating has become a struggle for many of the 7,000 men living and working at the Al Aweer Fruit and Vegetable Market in the days since Dubai Municipality began enforcing a ban on cooking in their living quarters. One of the largest storage facilities in the emirate, with hundreds of cargo trucks arriving each day with fresh food stuff, Al Aweer also houses thousands of its workers.

The curb on cooking follows a fire earlier this month that burnt down several shops stocking onions and potatoes. Although there were no casualties, tons of goods and 24 shops were destroyed in the blaze. "This started last week when municipality officials instructed the security guards in our buildings not to allow gas cylinders into the building," said Altasur Rahman, a worker who loads and unloads goods that arrive at market.

"The next day the officials checked every room and confiscated stoves and cylinders found in the room." The workers are mostly expatriates from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, who earn Dh20 to Dh30 a day for loading and unloading cargo. They rely on cooking for themselves, because it is cheaper. The restrictions have left many queuing for food at the few restaurants in the area, with some reporting that their colleagues were running to get food parcels from delivery trucks and vans before they quickly sold out.

"This is the first time I am seeing anything like this happening," Mr Rahman said. "There is no place to eat for us. We cannot afford to eat at restaurants every day." Amal Shehzad, another worker who lives at Al Aweer market, said there were further implications. "Some people are diabetic and have to eat at home. "Time is also a big problem as we cannot afford to spend an hour in a restaurant during lunchtime. We carry our food and get back to work once we eat."

Dubai Municipality said yesterday that cooking was banned within the market premises for fire-safety reasons. "There has always been a blanket ban on using gas cylinders for cooking in the market and its premises," a spokesman said. "This is not a new rule." Shahjahan Haroon, a sales executive at City Home Foodstuff Trading, located in the market, said: "It's a really bad situation, and thousands of people are affected by this.

"There are around 7,000 people who live in these accommodations. This is bound to reflect on their work because they can't work without eating." The sudden surge in the number of customers had also left restaurants and cafeterias short of food, workers said. "I left home in the morning and could not have lunch as the food finished," Mr Shehzad said. "The restaurants are overcrowded, and only those who get there first are getting food."

pmenon@thenational.ae