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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

'We can't store our fruits': Merchants pay out of their own pocket to fill electricity gap at Mina Zayed 

Summer heat burns away profits as merchants are forced to use generators to keep fruit fresh

Mohammed Rafai, a Syrian produce merchant at the Mina Zayed fruit and vegetable market, sits inside one of his refrigerators. He estimates he lost Dh3,000 in produce due to electricity restrictions this month, the equivalent to about a third of his monthly profit. Victor Besa / The National
Mohammed Rafai, a Syrian produce merchant at the Mina Zayed fruit and vegetable market, sits inside one of his refrigerators. He estimates he lost Dh3,000 in produce due to electricity restrictions this month, the equivalent to about a third of his monthly profit. Victor Besa / The National

Vegetable merchants at Mina Zayed are paying thousands of dirhams a month out of their own pockets to keep generators running because the market's infrastructure cannot meet electricity demands, with summer temperatures hitting well over 40°C.

A month ago, merchants were told they would not be able to run their refrigerators in summer. Vendors did not have the electricity to power refrigerators for two weeks and lost tens of thousands of dirhams as produce spoiled.

Customers shop at the Mina Zayed fruit and vegetable market. Victor Besa / The National 
Customers shop at the Mina Zayed fruit and vegetable market. Victor Besa / The National 

Abdulrazak Fareeth watched his produce rot before his eyes last month. “Two kilograms of raspberries, five kg of broccoli, 25kg of lettuce, 30kg of bananas and the mushrooms and the grapes. So much had to be thrown out,” said the Keralite vegetable merchant. “At least the mangoes were OK.”

Vendors pooled their money together to rent generators at a cost of Dh16,000 a month. Diesel for the generators costs between Dh2,300 to Dh3,500 a day, they said.

Abu Dhabi Distribution Company restricted the market’s electricity supply after the circuit was repeatedly overloaded. It has asked vendors to apply for an infrastructure upgrade.

“Each time the problem happens one of the fuses burnt and therefore ADDC was responsible to change it,” said a customer service representative. “There was an agreement that if one more shortage happened, ADDC would no longer be responsible and they would be required to apply for an upgrade so that it can handle the overload.”

Sher Khan, 45, shows off his fresh vegetables at Dar Al Dhiyafa, a produce shop at the Mina Zayed fruit and vegetable market. Victor Besa / The National 
Sher Khan, 45, shows off his fresh vegetables at Dar Al Dhiyafa, a produce shop at the Mina Zayed fruit and vegetable market. Victor Besa / The National 

ADDC cannot start the upgrades until it receives an official request. “The problem must be tackled from the source so that it does not happen again,” said the representative. “This is for safety reasons. Until now we did not receive an official request. It’s their turn to consult with us to solve this issue.”

The cost of the upgrade can only be determined once an application is made. It is unclear whether this cost is the responsibility of the Government, which owns the land, or the vendors, who rent shops at an annual rate of Dh7,000.

The market was given to the fruit and vegetable merchants by the UAE’s Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed, but the Government holds ownership.

Business owners are appealing to Abu Dhabi Municipality, which manages the market.

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Ali Al Tamimi, the owner of Bou Kharkhash Dates, said he is filing an official complaint with the municipality with other vendors. “It’s a disaster,” said Mr Al Tamimi, “We have all our fruits that we can’t store and we are losing money.”

Abu Dhabi Municipality has been contacted for comment.

Vendors said they were told upgrades to electrical cables would be made “after the weather changes”. This has been interpreted as early as September and as late as December.

Mohammed Hussein, the manager of produce wholesaler Dar Al Dhiyafa, said his shop has paid Dh3,000 for this month’s generator rental and diesel costs.

A merchant counts his money and double checks receipts. Victor Besa / The National 
A merchant counts his money and double checks receipts. Victor Besa / The National 

Four rows of shops and more than 50 merchants have been affected by the power shortage.

Mohammed Rafai, from Syrian, estimates he lost Dh3,000 in goods, the equivalent to about a third of his monthly profit. “Every day I was throwing stuff out," he said.

Sales are slow in summer when the city’s population plummets as families take extended holidays overseas to avoid the daily temperatures in the UAE that regularly reach the late 40°Cs.

Merchants have already taken a hit this year with the introduction of VAT on January 1, said Mr Rafai. The market does not have fixed prices and shoppers have refused to pay VAT, so merchants have absorbed the cost. “Taxes hit us hard,” said Mr Rafai. “I pay the tax, not the customer.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, issued directives earlier this year to start the redevelopment of the Mina Zayed port area. Fish, vegetable, wood and carpet markets will be restructured to create a multi-use seafront with residential, commercial and cultural areas.

Merchants pick out vegetables for a drive-through customer in the refrigerated room. Victor Besa / The National 
Merchants pick out vegetables for a drive-through customer in the refrigerated room. Victor Besa / The National 

Many expected that their contribution to the generator would go further. Vendors are now considering keep fruit and vegetable unrefrigerated at night so they can save on diesel.

“We’ll start shutting off the generator because we don’t have the money to pay,” said Mr Fareeth. “Where will we get the extra money from? If it breaks, who is responsible for fixing it? It could take four months and even if they need a year to fix it, it’s not a problem but they could bring a generator for us. Electricity is the job of the Government.”

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More on life at Mina Zayed:

The social media star of Abu Dhabi's carpet souq

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