Of eighty-eight grocery stores registered with the tax inspectorate of Alaverdi only two - the main store in the Sarahart district, operated by Atorik, Ltd., and Narine Kharatyan's store in the same district – meet the required sanitary standards.
“The other stores do not meet the standard sanitary requirements. And though about 70 stores were fined in recent years, the situation there hasn't changed,” said Zhaneta Verdyan, deputy director of the Lori branch of the State Sanitary and Antiepidemic Inspectorate of the Ministry of Health.
Standards require the stores to have a rest area, cloakroom, storage area and, most importantly, washrooms and toilets. But 80 stores in Alaverdi lack even the most basic and vital sanitary arrangements. According to customers, many salespeople relieve themselves in special buckets kept in the stores. And it's a matter of doubt whether they wash their hands before returning to work. From the sanitary standpoint the butcher shops are the worst of all. As we learned from Inspection Report #0558 of April 19, 2006 on the butcher shop owned by Zohrab Mghdsyan, signed by Inspector Ashkhen Mosinyan: “…the butcher shop is located within the territory of the city market and consists of a structure with an area of 10 square meters. It has no auxiliary facilities; the meat is stored and sold in the same section. The shop has no cold or hot tap water. There is no sink for washing hands.”
The Alaverdi market, recently reopened after a lengthy renovation, has washrooms and toilets but since the shops are not owned by the market “the butchers can only use the washrooms and toilets if they pay for it,” said one of the owners of the market, Mayor of Alaverdi Arthur Nalbandyan. It turns out that if each butcher (without counting the assistants) uses the lavatories or bathrooms five or six times a day he will have to pay the market 9,000 drams in the course of a month. Even if they realize how important it is to work with clean hands, most butchers are unlikely to be able to afford such a luxury. There is no is no control over the cleanliness of the shops, no control over the thermal conditions of the refrigerators; and the butcher's blocks for chopping and trimming the meat do not meet the required standards…
Ashkhen Mosinyan told us that in accordance with a directive issued by the State Sanitary and Antiepidemic Inspectorate of the Ministry of Health in 2006 the three other shops located next to Zohrab Mghdsyan's, owned by Varuzhan Khechikyan, Hamlet Isoyan and Varuzhan Norekyan, had been inspected and similar sanitary conditions were discovered. We would like to add that the meat from the slaughtered cattle is transported to the butcher's shops from the neighboring villages in random cars. Since the Alaverdi slaughterhouse has been out of operation for some time, cattle is often slaughtered right next to the shops – on the sidewalk of the central road. And stray dogs surround the shops in packs.
We were also told by the Lori inspectors that the situation regarding medical checkups of the grocery sellers in the Alaverdi Polyclinic is worrisome. According to the polyclinic administration, only one person of the personnel of 88 grocery stores underwent a medical checkup in 2006. It should be noted that 300 people with tuberculosis are registered in Alaverdi.
The barest necessity – bread, which the customers often choose after probing the entire assortment with their hands, is sold in ugly and untidy wooden kiosks without any facilities. The bread sellers have no overalls or gloves. Karine Sargsyan, who works at the shop owned by a bakery located at the side of the road in Alaverdi's Sarahart district not only doesn't wear overalls or gloves, but also plays with stray dogs in customers' presence and sells bread without washing her hands.
The market at the Haypetshin district – which the residents for some reason call “the Lachin corridor” - is similarly unsanitary. Here produce is sold on the ground. And as a result of recurring breakdowns of the sewer that passes through the market, stinking sewage flows near the produce. “In spite of the unsanitary situation in the trading area, fortunately there have been no epidemics in Alaverdi in recent years but I see such a danger in the street trade and in the bread shops,” says epidemiologist Suren Lalayan from the Alaverdi hospital.
When asked for how long this unsanitary situation might continue Alaverdi Mayor Arthur Nalbandyan said, “So far we haven't taken appropriate measures against street trade, also because we cannot offer better conditions to the people who make their daily bread through selling stuff in the street, though a month ago after a long renovation the market was put into operation and people can now trade there.'
The formerly city-owned market called Kata is now owned by Mayor Nalbandyan, director of the Northern electricity supply network Ashot Shakaryan and Alverdi resident Taron Abgaryan. But neither traders nor customers have access to it yet. Since it reopened there has been only one merchant selling vegetables there.
“A trader has to pay the market administration about 800 drams a day (about $2.2) for a trading stall and it is not profitable, but in the market of the Haypetshin district we pay 1,040 drams a month for a kiosk, “ said Georgy, a trader with a college education, adding that he is not going to move to the newly opened market. “And if they force us to, I'll move toRussia.”
Mayor Nalbandyan told us that “unless we get rid of the kiosks reminiscent of public toilets it is meaningless to talk about sanitary conditions for trade.” While the mayor philosophizes, the sanitary-epidemic safety of Alaverdi residents remains threatened. The local authorities so far have been only talking about dealing with the this threat, and the Lori regional center of the State Sanitary and Antiepidemic Inspectorate keeps filling out inspection reports that have no impact on the situation and issuing fines that often go unpaid.