Muttrah Souq traders at risk of losing everything

Energy Sunday 07/February/2016 21:31 PM
By: Times News Service
Muttrah Souq traders at risk of losing everything

MUSCAT: It is renowned as one of the oldest marketplaces in the Arab world, but shopkeepers at Muttrah Souq face a very modern problem - they cannot get insurance for their businesses, leaving them at risk of losing everything.
Counting the cost is Mazrook Keethadath, the shop manager of the Muttrah warehouse that was gutted last week with goods worth OMR200,000 inside it. He said his firm was denied insurance and that many others like him are totally unprotected.
Traditional marketplace
Some 1,000 shopkeepers make their trade inside the traditional marketplace which is more than 200-year-old and attracts thousands of tourists every year.
“Citing risks, they denied insurance coverage. Now, in the accident, I have lost goods worth OMR200,000,” Mazrook, who has been resident in Oman for the last 25 years, said. “Majority of the shops in this Souq are not insured. Companies are reluctant to provide coverage,” Mazrook added.
Brokers in Oman confirmed to Times of Oman that the Souq is a major headache and that insurance companies are reluctant to provide cover.
“Both fire and flood risk are too high in that area. Providing an insurance coverage to the shops in Muttrah Souq is not at all practical. Long back, a study conducted by a Norwegian firm had stated that Muttrah Souq is in Orange Zone, the worst one, for flood risks. Same is the case of fire risk too,” a senior official from an insurance firm, said.
“There is no separation between shops in the Souq. Entry for fire engines into the area is not easy. If we categorise the safety levels for the shops in Souq, then they will be falling in category 3, the worst one,” the insurance firm official said.
Meanwhile, another insurance company official said the identification of property ownership is quite difficult in Muttrah Souq.
“Those who approach us fail to provide the actual identity of the property owner. That makes it very difficult for us to insure and fulfil claim when something happens,” the insurance company official added.
Moreover, the nature of the stock is also a big problem. If they are stocking risky items, then they should follow all kinds of safety measures set by the police. They do not do so and therefore, we cannot insure them,” the insurance company official said, adding that the stock is also a floating one, which is not audited properly in case of majority of the shops and warehouses in Muttrah Souq.
Hussain Juma Al Balushi, representative of the merchants in Muttrah Souq, said they are cursed to suffer these accidents when they are not covered by insurance companies.
“Citing rain and flood, a few years back, they started to deny insurance. Due to climate change, every year, we are experiencing two or three rains and floods. Already, we are suffering huge losses in rains and in addition to that, these kind of fire accidents also cause immense damage and loss,” Al Balushi added.
Meanwhile, Tawfiq Al Lawati, Majlis Al Shura member from Muttrah, said the concerned authorities should step in to help the traders in Souq.
“Redesigning the souq can resolve the issue to an extent. In addition to that, traders should also be aware of the risks. Why do they stock items worth thousands of rials in Muttrah itself? Why can’t they move it to Wadi Kabir or other areas? Risk can be avoided up to an extent if the traders act in a logical fashion,” the Shura member said.
Around 1,000 shops are nestled in Muttrah Souq, one of the oldest markets in Oman, dating back about two hundred years.
Muttrah Souq is a prototype of old Eastern markets, characterised by narrow winding alleys roofed with wood where handicrafts like silverware, daggers, traditional clothes, new apparel and shoes, in addition to the famous Omani sweets (Halwa), spices and braziers are sold.