THE rat infestation at markets in Kuala Lumpur has thrown the spotlight on the condition of these places where we buy our produce.
It looks like a case of he-said-she-said, and the two parties involved here are Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) and market traders.
DBKL says the traders have to buck up and clean the premises while the traders say they have done their part but they are unable to eliminate the rats.
The pest problem gained public attention after DBKL highlighted that five markets had been pinpointed as breeding grounds for rats.
The locations are the Selayang Wholesale, Chow Kit, Pudu, Sentul and Keramat markets.
When StarMetro visited the markets in Chow Kit and Pudu, rats could be seen out-and-about even during the day.
At Pudu, many of the stalls were closed at 4pm and rats were found roaming around the stalls where meat was sold in the earlier part of the day.
What was more troubling was that the traders appeared unfazed by the rodents’ presence.
Poultry seller Chong Choi Fong, 57, said the rats were there every day.
“They will start coming out from their hideouts at around noon and there will be more when the stalls are closed,” said Chong, who has been trading there for 29 years.
She claimed traders faced frequent water shortage and so they were unable to clean the place consistently.
“It is not that we do not want to wash our stalls but sometimes there is no water,” she said.
Spice trader Loman Ahmad Behari, 42, said it was an embarrassing site as many tourists visited the market.
“There seems to be more rats over the years,” he said.
At Chow Kit, fruit seller Ahmad Dollah, 41, said he had found bite marks on some of the fruits he left overnight.
“I have to throw them away and this is a loss to me,” he said.
Another trader, who only wanted to be known as Ros, 50, said they cleaned their stalls but the rat problem persisted.
“We do not know where they come from,” she said.
She hopes more can be done by DBKL to resolve the issue as she points out that rats are scaring customers away.
DBKL Health and Environment director Dr Hayati Abdullah said the traders played the main role in curbing the rat population.
“Unfortunately, some traders have the ‘this is not my backyard’ mentality and hence they do not care for cleanliness.
“Rats are attracted to places where sanitation is poor and food is abundant.
“The market traders can help bring down the population of rats by cleaning daily after their business hours,” she said.
She added that they must use proper plastic bags to dispose of the food waste and throw the bags into the communal garbage bins provided.
“The problem is they do not put the waste into the plastic bags and it is thrown carelessly into the collection bins.
“That is where the rats will go to find food,” she said.
She noted that at the meat section, poultry innards and fish guts were left on the floor.
“Yes, they may clean their stalls but the leftovers are usually washed into the drains instead of being disposed off properly,” she added.
Dr Hayati stressed that all parties and not just the authorities had a role in combating the infestation.
“Consumers can play a part too by not buying from stalls that are dirty,” she said.
She said traders would not take cleanliness seriously as customers were still patronising the stalls despite the current state of the markets.
Dr Hayati suggested that traders use proper storage containers to keep the food items overnight instead of just covering them with a plastic sheet.
“If they invest in these containers, they can avoid losses from having to discard the goods after being eaten by rats,” she said.
DBKL senior assistant environmental health officer Mariappan Chinniah explained that the gestation period for a rat was 28 days and each rat could give birth to six to 12 babies.
“It is then ready to breed again after four to six hours,” he said, adding that this factor made it very difficult to control and overcome the rat infestation.
Dr Hayati said the department had 100 traps that were set at selected locations every two to three months.
Areas the traps were set included markets, eateries and housing areas.
“We also place rat poison at different locations and pick up the carcasses every one to three days.
The department created a rat trap called “ez-catch” in 2011, a double-deck trap that can hold up to 30 rats.
Dr Hayati said she had received the greenlight to implement a new programme where the public would be paid RM3 for each rat they caught. Currently, DBKL pays RM1 for each rat caught.
“The new rate should be effective after Hari Raya Aidilfitri,” she said.
She added that the local authority was also looking into other methods to better fight the rat problem.
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