Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Afghan Butchers Pose Public Health Hazard
Residents of the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad complain that local butchers are creating a public health hazard by slaughtering animals in public places and failing to observe basic hygiene standards.
Although Jalalabad, the main city in Nangarhar province, has an abattoir, very few of the 350 butchers in the city use it, preferring to kill livestock on their own premises or in public places – in the street, by canals or near the river Behsud.
Mansur, who lives in the city, said butchers used the banks of a large canal about 300 metres away from his house as an open-air abattoir, and the waste they left created a dreadful smell.
“When the wind blows from that direction, we have to cover our noses with handkerchiefs even inside our home,” he said, recalling that neighbours had complained to the municipal authorities several times, to no effect.
The scenes of slaughter had a psychological impact, too, Mansur said.
“For several nights running, my younger brother, who walked to school along this route, woke up and screamed that someone was coming after him with a knife. We transferred him from that school to another one,” he said. “People in this country don’t care. Everyone thinks he’s the boss.”
Hafizullah Sorkhrodi, chairman of the local butchers’ association, denied that meat sellers in the city were involved.
“The butchers in Jalalabad city don’t slaughter anywhere except the abattoir,” he said. “It’s only those outside the city who don’t have access to the abattoir; it’s difficult for us to have one in every locality.”
One butcher in the city, however, said his colleagues did not use the abattoir because it was not fit for purpose.
“First of all, the building does not have enough space for all the butchers in Jalalabad to slaughter their livestock,” said the butcher, who preferred to remain anonymous. “Besides, the slaughterhouse has no electricity or fridges, so butchers don’t go there.”
Saifurrahman, a butcher in the Chaparhar Hada area, said that most slaughtering was done on the premises, out of business hours.
“We slaughter animals at night or early in the morning in our shop, behind closed doors, to prevent people from seeing it, but I accept that some butchers do kill animals in front of their shops and in public, which is wrong,” he said.
The local council says it is trying to regulate the production and sale of meat in the city better, but that it is an uphill struggle.
Musa Khan Arab, of the municipality’s finance department, agreed that most livestock was killed in butcher’s shops at night.
“Some of them also slaughter their livestock alongside the canal in the Farm-e Hada area,” he continued. “We don’t know what to do about them.”
He added that although he carried out inspections of butchers’ shops up to three times a week and issued cash fines to offenders, this had had little effect.
“I have also referred some butchers to the attorney’s office, but in Afghanistan, connections and intervention mean people are above the law,” he said.
The risks to public health go beyond environmental nuisance.
Nangarhar resident Harun Momand said diseased animals from outlying villages were sometimes bought by city butchers at knock-down prices.
“I have even seen animals that died due to illness rather than being slaughtered. After they died, the owners cut their throats [to observe halal rules], and butchers came and bought them cheap and took them to the city,” he said. “I know that if an animal dies of some illness, the infection can also kill people.”
As butchers hang carcasses outside their shops, the meat can be exposed directly to dust and car fumes. Some cover the meat with thin plastic sheeting, but this can stick to the meat and cause it to rot.
Most butchers have no fridges and therefore mix and sell fresh meat with cuts left over from the previous day.
During the summer months, carcasses are swarming with flies. Some butchers try use netting to keep the flies off, but others simply spray insecticide directly onto the meat.
“I was passing by the butchers’ alley once,” said Zabihullah Rahimzai, a Nangarhar writer. “I saw a butcher holding a canister which he was spraying on the meat. I asked him what it was, and he said it was insecticude. I told him it stank and was harmful to human beings, but he laughed and said it neither smelled nor was harmful. I have not eaten meat since that day.”
The unsanitary practices of poultry sellers, who do business from roadside stalls, have also come in for criticism.
Customers choose a chicken from a selection in a cage, and the bird is taken out and killed on the spot. The vendor then skins the chicken and throws the waste products away.
Rahmatullah, a journalism student, avoids streets where chicken sellers work when he goes to and from his house.
“First of all, I feel like puking because of the stink from the chicken blood and waste. Besides, these brutal people slaughter chickens in front of people, most of whom hate watching such scenes. These unkind people also skin the chickens and cut their legs off right after cutting their throats, while they are still alive.”
Finance official Arab said he would soon put an end to such practices.
“I have given the chicken vendors a three-day ultimatum,” he said. “They will relocate to a dedicated marketplace and they won’t be able to trade in various parts of the city any more.”
Medical experts say the largely unregulated meat industry poses a serious danger to public health.
Emal Sherzai, a lecturer at the medical faculty at Nangarhar university, said that the entire process, from slaughtering the animal to selling the meat, was fraught with risks.
“Parasitic, respiratory and digestive illnesses are caused by dirty and unhygienic environments,” he said. “Most people, particularly children, die from such illnesses in our country.”
Calling on butchers to kill livestock properly and store carcasses in sanitary conditions, he added, “They should stop gambling with people’s health.”
Hijratullah Ekhtyar is an IWPR-trained reporter in Nangarhar province.
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