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About A Week: A Journey To Shame Car Drivers

Peter Hinchliffe feels guilty as he sits in his "metal box'' in a traffic jam.

Monday afternoon, and traffic is at a standstill on the M-62 motorway, the United Kingdom's main trans-Pennine east-west road linking the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire.

An accident up ahead? Road works?

No, the hold-up is caused by too many vehicles using the motorway at the same time. It's further proof that there are too many cars in Britain and not enough roads to put them on.

During the Monday to Friday rush hours all six lanes of the M-62 are choked with vehicles going nowhere. If there is a minor accident delays are interminable. Recently it took me 100 minutes to travel the 18 miles from Leeds to Huddersfield.

Driving on suburban roads in the U.K. now requires the closest possible attention. Scores of thousands of homes don't have garages or driveways. Cars parked in streets are enforcing single-lane traffic.

Despite these delays and harassments, and the repeated pleas of environmentalists aware of the consequences of global warming, the car continues to be Britain's most popular form of transport.

Even for short journeys of less than a mile Brits use their cars rather than their feet, as the Department for Transport's annual national travel survey recently revealed.

Four-fifths of all the journeys made by Britons in 2006 were in cars.

The average Briton travelled 7,133 miles during the year. This figure includes trips made by air. The average distance walked during the year was 201 miles.

In the United States people are even more dependent than Europeans on their cars. Because of urban sprawl Americans are having to drive further and further to reach their workplaces or to go shopping. The average American drives more than 8,000 miles a year.

The U.S. produces one-fourth of total global carbon emissions, and these are growing at more than 4 percent a year. Some 30 percent of these emissions come from motor vehicles.

The much-vaunted American way of life is dependent upon cars -- and if global warming is to be combated that way of life is unsustainable.

There are more than 1 million cars on the roads of Seoul. Millions of people in Korea, China, India and Thailand are eager to own a car.

In poor countries travel is still done mostly on foot and bicycle. The majority of the poorest countries are in Africa, south of the Sahara. Millions there live on less than a dollar a day.

If people in rural Africa have to go some place, they walk. They walk to fetch water and firewood, to get to market and school. Walking trips that take two days are not uncommon.

In Kindia, Guinea, women travel up to three hours to reach the local market, carrying as much as 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of produce on their backs.

Trucks serve as buses, but they are overcrowded and expensive, making a walk the only option for many.

This afternoon I shall drive into town in my Honda Jazz to go to the bank. Inevitably I will be held up in a traffic jam. The temptation will be to drum fingers on the steering wheel. Instead of expressing signs of extreme frustration, I will today force myself to think of a lady named Sarah who lives in the Sudan.

Sarah walks for 7 hours and 30 minutes in heat of 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) through the Nuba Mountains to fetch the daily amount of water she needs for her family.

Filmmaker Ali Hobbs travelled with her and recorded every step of the way.

Her film, "The Long Walk," which shows every step of Sarah's grueling daily journey, was screened in London's Trafalgar Square by WaterAid, a charity dedicated to bringing water to the poor of the world.

The U.K. secretary of state for international development, Hilary Benn, attended the event.

Sarah's ordeals to ensure her family stays alive are far from unique. An estimated 1.1 billion people have no immediate access to clean water.

They trudge many miles to collect a few liters of dirty water for cooking, washing, drinking and cleaning purposes.

Sarah's journey puts to shame car owners, such as me, who moan and complain when caught up in traffic jams.


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