Sweltering Heat in Baghdad

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Lisa Mullins: To Iraq now where yesterday the government declared a holiday. No, it wasn't because it was the first day of Ramadan, it was because of the heat. Reporter Jane Arraf is in Baghdad. Now, Iraq is usually really, really, hot in the summertime, so why would they have to declare a day off and ask people to stay home?

Jane Arraf: Well, it was kind of like a perfect storm. It was the first day of Ramadan for a lot of people, not all, because they celebrate and commemorate it separately. But first day of Ramadan where you are actually supposed to go without food or even water for what turns out to be more than 14 hours. And probably what had a lot to do with it is that people are really angry about electricity and they've been protesting in the streets in those demonstrations on Fridays. So they sat down and seemed to figure out that it would actually be a good idea not to have those protests, and they gave all the government workers the day off.

Mullins: Government workers, how about other workers, do they have A/C?

Arraf: Gosh, no. You just feel so terrible for some of those people when you go out in the street and the laborers, I mean can you imagine working in 120 degree heat especially if you're not drinking water? But a lot of them were still out there, although reduced hours. The shops were open. I was downtown yesterday morning and a lot of the shops were open. People basically have to make a living, so they just try to find ways to adapt.

Mullins: So if people aren't working for various reasons like yesterday being a day off, what are they doing to stay cool?

Arraf: Well, the ones can afford it are going to things like Zowra Park, which is a major amusement park here in Baghdad. I went there the other day and went into what they're billing as a 5D movie. Now, we know about typical 3D movies, but this one has the added bonus of cool air being blown at you. And sometimes I told cool water thrown at you. When I was there it was just the cool air of the chairs moving. But if you can't afford to go to the amusement park really what you do is you try to douse yourself with water. You try to sleep. You try not to work too much, which makes perfect sense in this kind of heat. But it's really, really very, very tough, particularly with the electricity crisis here.

Mullins: Yeah, and the electricity crisis is obviously a political issue, the fact that there are so many power shortages through the course of the day. Who gets the blame for these shortages and who deserves the blame?

Arraf: I think the blame has to be spread kind of a long way around. If you look at the money poured into this, the United States has spent billions on this. Iraq has spent billions on it. And if you talk to officials, former officials for the most part, a lot of that money has simply been siphoned off either through corruption or incompetence, or security. The electricity grid was one of the biggest targets during the period when violence really was rampant here. Now that there aren't those attacks anymore they're kind of left with the system that's never been restored. So if you go and talk to the electricity ministry, they'll tell you about their big plans -- short, medium and long term. Now the short term plan is to provide eight hours a day of electricity, and to do that they're actually giving free fuel to generator operators. And most people don't get their electricity from the city; they actually pay money to a big generator guy who hooks up a line to their house so they get limited electricity. Now the free fuel is supposed to increase the availability of power. It hasn't really because the fuel isn't being spread around, they're buying it on the black market, so people here are miserable. They spend most of their day trying to figure out how to stay cool -- how they can get their generator running, how they can buy more electricity -- it has become a national obsession here.

Mullins: And Jane, before we go leaving you in sweltering Baghdad, what are the temperatures today?

Arraf: Temperatures are again 122 degrees, but on Friday it is going to be a relatively cool 108. So everyone is really looking forward to that.

Mullins: Reporter Jane Arraf included, thank you very much.

Arraf: Thank you.