Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Baby you're one in 7 billion

MANILA: The first of the world's symbolic 'seven billionth' babies arrived yesterday, to celebrations that were somewhat tempered by worries over the strain that humanity's exploding population is putting on a fragile planet. While countries across the globe held lavish ceremonies for newborn infants symbolising the demographic milestone, these came with warnings that there may be too many people for the Earth's resources. But these concerns were put aside for the moment at Manila's Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital when Danica May Camacho, weighing 2.5kg, arrived to cheers just before midnight on Sunday. RELATED LINKS POPULATION EXPLOSION RISING FASTER Amid an explosion of media flash bulbs in the delivery room, mother Camille Dalura cradled her tiny baby as father Florante Camacho looked on. 'She looks so lovely,' she whispered softly. 'I can't believe she is the world's seven billionth.' Top UN officials in the country presented the child with a small chocolate cake marked '7B Philippines', and a gift certificate for free shoes. Amid the millions of births and deaths around the world each day, it is impossible to pinpoint the arrival of the actual seven-billionth occupant. The United Nations had, however, estimated that this baby would be born yesterday, prompting many countries to hold events to celebrate the milestone. The Philippines was the first country to declare its symbolic contribution to humanity; although Danica came two minutes before midnight, doctors say that was close enough. Three minutes later, the Bangladeshi authorities named another baby girl, Oishee, as the world's seven billionth. Zambia had plans to throw a seven-billion song contest; Vietnam was staging a '7B: Counting On Each Other' concert; the Russian authorities showered gifts on selected newborns; and Papua New Guinea handed out goodie bags to new mums. But while parents and local officials were all smiles, top leaders and population experts were less sanguine. 'We shouldn't be celebrating the birth of the seven billionth child,' Indian Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad told the Times of India. 'For us, a matter of joy will be when the population stabilises.' UN chief Ban Ki Moon had warned about the implications of the 7 billion milestone when speaking to students at a New York school last week. 'This is not a story about numbers. This is a story about people,' he said. 'Seven billion people who need enough food. Enough energy. Good opportunities in life for jobs and education. Rights and freedoms. The freedom to speak. The freedom to raise their own children in peace and security. 'Everything you want for yourself - seven billion times over.' Indeed, the numbers tell a worrying tale. The world's six billionth inhabitant, a Bosnian child named Adnan Mevic, was born on Oct 12, 1999. In just 12 years, humanity added a billion more babies - or almost another China. The world's population took thousands of years to pass the one billion mark. Demographers say this milestone was reached in 1804. It took more than a century - 1927 - before the number doubled. The 20th century, though, saw numbers begin to accelerate: three billion in 1959; four billion in 1974; five billion in 1987; six billion in 1999. With about two babies being born every second, the population is forecast to hit eight billion by 2025 and 10 billion by 2083 - and possibly as many as 15 billion by 2100. India is predicted to overtake China as the world's most populous nation by 2025, when it will have almost 1.5 billion people. A new UN Population Fund (UNFPA) report highlights how the world will face growing problems finding jobs for the new army of young people, especially in poor countries, and also sounds alarm over how climate change and population growth are adding to drought and famine crises, the management of megacities like Tokyo, and ageing populations such as Europe's. Ironically, the population explosion is taking place in countries that can afford it least. Prosperous nations have slashed their fertility rates to the point that some have to address a looming population decline, while developing nations, especially those in Africa and Asia, are having more problems providing their citizens with access to employment, education and health care. The report noted that high fertility rates hamper development and perpetuate poverty in the poorest countries. Simply put, it might mean that the world may not be able to feed itself in 100 years' time. 'Our record population can be viewed in many ways as a success for humanity - people are living longer, healthier lives,' UNFPA executive director Babatunde Osotimehin said in the report, but added: 'How did we become so many? How large a number can our Earth sustain?' Mr Ban was not seen cuddling a newborn yesterday, as his predecessor Kofi Annan did with little Adnan. Instead, Mr Ban warned that the seven-billionth baby will be entering a 'world of contradiction'. 'Plenty of food, but still a billion people going to bed hungry every night,' he said. 'Many people enjoy luxurious lifestyles, but still many people are impoverished.' AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ASSOCIATED PRESS