Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, April 23, 2009

You first become aware something's amiss when the fan overhead stops whirring, and the A/C grinds to a halt. As you waver irritably between dreams and awakening, a shuddering, thunderous roar goes up as the generator comes to life. Great. Another powercut. It was funny enough when you chuckled over last week's fictional escapade in the search of the ever-elusive Electricity, but now the joke's wearing thin.

Somewhere, just audible over the the drone, is the tinny voice of a broadcast. Someone's television (or is it a radio?) is backed up by the generator, and tuned to some annoying news program.

"The rate of warming is increasing. The 20th century's last two decades were the hottest in 400 years and possibly the warmest for several millennia, according to a number of climate studies...Arctic ice is rapidly disappearing, and the region may have its first completely ice-free summer by 2040 or earlier."

More gloom and doom. Just what you needed after a sleepless night spent writing some stupid assignment that would have been finished hours earlier if your UPS hadn't been shot. You kick off the covers, squirming in the heat as you try to get comfortable and crawl back into peaceful slumber.

The sun shimmers overhead, a ball of white heat. The bare tops of leafless trees claw the stifling, windless air that scorches sunburnt tumorous skin. The boat floats solemnly over what used to be a bustling capital city, now sleeping under what used to be ice-caps. Elsewhere on the planet, another starving polar bear drowns.

Your sleeping hand swats at the annoying whine at your ear, half-waking you, and dispersing the cobwebs of the nightmare. As you roll over to the other side, your shoulder bumps the bedside table, and the magazine you'd been reading falls to the ground. It was the issue with that terribly depressing cover story about the global water crisis.

"884 million people, lack access to safe water supplies, approximately one in eight people...Every 15 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease"

As you wait for sleep, you can't help but remember those three horrific days just last week when you had no water in the flat. You lie there with your eyes closed, remembering...

The rust stains on the shower head mocked you as you stared at it. You've turned the knobs as far as they would go, but not a drop comes out. The faucet in the sink had belched some mud and air earlier in the morning, but nothing since then. The buckets you had filled two days ago had run dry the previous night, and now stand empty. The kitchen counter is littered with empty PET bottles. You'd exhausted those too. Dirty dishes lie in the sink, unwashed laundry stinking in the clothes basket. You'd called municipality man an hour ago to inquire when the next shipment of water would reach you, but all you got was a busy dial tone. Staring at your fast-depleting wallet, you decided to suffer your thirst just a little longer...

The steady drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet brings you back to the conveniences of the present, as soothing as the feel of your mother's hands patting your back as she crooned a lullaby to you as a child. Comforted by the sound, you try to drift off again, but it's hard. Even several storeys up, you can still smell the acrid black smoke from the giant diesel-guzzling beast of a generator downstairs. It is an ever-present, oppressive malodor that invades your nostrils in this increasingly stuffy room. It reminds you of the cumbersome biology assignment you'd been working on.

"The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.5 billion people living in urban areas throughout the world breathe dangerous levels of air pollution"

Like you didn't know that already. Suddenly the muggy humidity and the smell of the smoke are more than you can bear. Pushing aside your pillow, you get up to your feet. You step towards the window, but decide against opening them; why let more of the smoke in? You open the door, hoping to relieve some of the claustrophobia, but the air outside your room is as dank and stale as the air within. You stand there, as though keenly aware of the million invisible cells and particles swarming in the very air you're breathing, crawling in through your nostrils, invading your body, the germs, the dust, the aerosol gases, and you find yourself choking on the thought. Your vision swims and sweat beads form on your face, running down your skin to pool at the waistband of your trousers.

Your lungs are on fire, clamoring for some fresh air...

...and wake up in the car, stuck in the middle of yet another traffic jam, under the blazing midday sun. Even as you grunt and shift into a more comfortable position, the traffic light turns green and the cool breeze generated by your car moving forward alleviating that suffocating sensation.

By Sabrina F Ahmad
References: http://news.nationalgeographic.com, http://www.water.org, http://www.cleanairsys.com



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