The planet’s pop­u­la­tion reaches a mile­stone to­day.

What are the con­se­quences of the birth to­day of child seven bil­lion?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By FIONA HAR­VEY

IN a modest flat in Visoko, near Sara­jevo in Bos­nia-herze­gov­ina, 12-year-old Ad­nan Ne­vic is play­ing with a globe. “Amer­ica, Aus­tralia, Asia,” he says, point­ing out the places he would like to visit on the slightly de­flated blow-up toy.

His favourite sub­ject at school is ge­og­ra­phy and he wants to be a pi­lot when he grows up, the bet­ter to ful­fil his dreams of global travel.

That Ad­nan has such an in­ter­na­tional out­look is hardly sur­pris­ing: at only two days old, he was held aloft in a Sara­jevo hos­pi­tal by the then United Na­tions sec­re­tary-gen­eral, Kofi An­nan, to be snapped by the world’s news pho­tog­ra­phers.

Of all the 80 mil­lion ba­bies born that year, Ad­nan was cho­sen as the world’s six bil­lionth liv­ing per­son.

The UN has cal­cu­lated that the world will wel­come its sev­enth bil­lion per­son to­day; the global pop­u­la­tion will hit nine bil­lion by 2050; and, ac­cord­ing to a UN re­port re­leased last Wed­nes­day, by the end of the cen­tury there could be 16 bil­lion peo­ple on the planet, although most ex­perts con­sider this an un­likely sce­nario, at the very top end of the range of ex­pec­ta­tions.

Ad­nan was born in 1999, cho­sen os­ten­si­bly at ran­dom but re­ally as a sym­bol of hope af­ter a bloody decade in the former Yu­goslavia, which was also the birth­place of the five bil­lionth baby, born in Zagreb in 1987.

The four bil­lionth per­son was born in 1974, and the three bil­lionth in 1960, ac­cord­ing to the UN. Be­fore that, the world took much longer to add so many peo­ple: there were two bil­lion peo­ple in 1927, and it took the whole of hu­man his­tory un­til 1804 to reach the point at which a whole bil­lion peo­ple in­hab­ited the planet at the same time.

Ad­nan, as well as be­ing a 12-year-old boy with as­pi­ra­tions to travel the globe, is an em­blem of the rapidly grow­ing world pop­u­la­tion that un­til re­cently has shown few signs of abat­ing.

Ris­ing birth rates in many coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly in the de­vel­op­ing world, have com­bined with longer life ex­pectancy and suc­cesses in re­duc­ing in­fant mor­tal­ity to pro­duce a to­tal pop­u­la­tion that few used to pre­dict was even pos­si­ble.

Ad­nan lives in a modest flat in the his­toric city. The cars parked out­side are mid-range mod­els not more than a few years old, the blocks are well-kept and the sur­round­ings are pleas­ant though not af­flu­ent. Out­side the block there is a soli­tary piece of graf­fiti, in blue spray paint. It reads “Ad­nan”. He is a lo­cal celebrity.

Most of the 78 mil­lion chil­dren born this year – and of the two to three bil­lion ex­pected in the next 40 years – will not be so lucky. The vast ma­jor­ity will be born into ap­palling pri­va­tion, in slums in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. Is the world fail­ing these chil­dren? Last year, although enough food was pro­duced to sat­isfy the world’s needs, at least one bil­lion peo­ple went hun­gry, ac­cord­ing to UN es­ti­mates.

The same num­ber lacked ac­cess to clean water and more than 2.6 bil­lion peo­ple still have no ad­e­quate san­i­ta­tion. Most of the world’s pop­u­la­tion now live in towns and cities, not the coun­try­side, for the first time in his­tory. But the ur­ban cen­tres that peo­ple are join­ing are the world’s bur­geon­ing megac­i­ties, in each of which tens of mil­lions of peo­ple live in penury with­out elec­tric­ity, water, toi­lets or enough to eat.

Child seven bil­lion will be born into a dif­fer­ent world to that which Ad­nan en­tered – one threat­ened by ter­ror­ism, eco­nomic cri­sis, cli­mate change and new wars un­thought of in 1999. But the prob­lems that the ex­plod­ing pop­u­la­tion will un­leash may, ac­cord­ing to some com­men­ta­tors, make to­day’s crises seem mild.

“Of all the in­ter­con­nected prob­lems we face, per­haps the most se­ri­ous is the pro­lif­er­a­tion of our own species,” says Sir Crispin Tick­ell, a former Bri­tish am­bas­sador to the UN, now an en­vi­ron­men­tal guru. “We are like a species out of con­trol.”

As pop­u­la­tion rises, this ar­gu­ment runs, con­sump­tion will in­crease and place an im­pos­si­ble strain on nat­u­ral re­sources, from water sup­plies and agri­cul­tural land to fish in the ocean, as well as giv­ing rise to run­away cli­mate change as we burn ever more fos­sil fu­els.

One ex­am­ple of the kind of prob­lem the planet will face has been this year’s dev­as­tat­ing famine in the Horn of Africa. Drought was the pri­mary cause, but it has been ex­ac­er­bated by pres­sure on the land; the pop­u­la­tion of the re­gion has dou­bled since the early 1970s.

Mary Robin­son, the former Ir­ish pres­i­dent, told a re­cent meet­ing of the Aspen In­sti­tute: “So­ma­lia shows the ex­tent to which fail­ure to learn from the famine in 1992, and our fail­ure to pri­ori­tise the health of women and chil­dren, has be­come a global prob­lem, one none of us can ig­nore.”

This view is de­rided in some quar­ters, es­pe­cially the US right, as “neo-malthu­sian” – a pes­simistic as­sump­tion of limit to the world’s bounty that has al­ways been proved wrong in the past. Pro­duc­tiv­ity – squeez­ing more food from less land, more en­ergy from fewer re­sources – has kept pace with or ex­ceeded pop­u­la­tion growth in the past, so why not in the fu­ture?

Although fer­til­ity rates have de­clined slightly from their 1960s peak, there is now a de­mo­graphic “bulge”, a boom in the num­ber of young peo­ple, that will en­sure growth con­tin­ues at a clip for the next few decades. By around mid-cen­tury, if the pre­dic­tions are right, pop­u­la­tion will for the first time in cen­turies be­gin a slow de­cline.

These are just guesses. Many ex­perts be­lieve the UN’S nine bil­lion to be a gross un­der­es­ti­mate, and pre­dict 11 bil­lion or 12 bil­lion as more likely. Pre­vi­ous pre­dic­tions have been too low: the UN’S fore­cast in the early 1990s was that pop­u­la­tion would peak in 2050 at 7.8 bil­lion, a level now vir­tu­ally cer­tain to be ex­ceeded in the next 15 years.

This year, the seven bil­lionth per­son will not be named; in­stead, the UN is merely cel­e­brat­ing the ar­rival to­day. Ac­cord­ing to the UN, this is be­cause all ba­bies born around the time will be equally marked. But Ad­nan’s fam­ily sus­pect the real rea­son may be em­bar­rass­ment. His par­ents have been be­wil­dered by the way the UN has be­haved since sin­gling out their only child for at­ten­tion. Since that day, they have re­ceived al­most no com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the or­gan­i­sa­tion and cer­tainly no sup­port.

It would not be sur­pris­ing if the UN is touchy about its ap­proach to pop­u­la­tion ques­tions.tions. For two decades, pop­u­la­tion con­cerns

have been pushed to one side as gov­ern­ments have be­come in­creas­ingly sen­si­tive about the is­sue.

There are sev­eral rea­sons – fear on the part of rich coun­tries of be­ing seen to at­tempt to con­trol the fer­til­ity of de­vel­op­ing na­tions; an em­pha­sis on other prob­lems, such as dis­eases, that seemed less in­tractable; and re­li­gion, which took pop­u­la­tion firmly off the in­ter­na­tional aid agenda for the whole of Ge­orge W. Bush’s US pres­i­dency. Even usu­ally out­spo­ken green groups have cen­sored them­selves on the sub­ject, avoid­ing the ques­tion of whether the num­ber of peo­ple on the planet has an im­pact on our ecol­ogy in favour of point­ing out that the West con­sumes a far larger share of avail­able re­sources than the South.

Some of this ret­i­cence is well-founded. Pre­vi­ous dis­cus­sions un­der the head­ing of “over­pop­u­la­tion” im­plied that some of the world’s in­hab­i­tants were sur­plus to re­quire­ments, an un­pleas­ant sug­ges­tion that car­ried over­tones of eu­gen­ics. Pop­u­la­tion ex­perts lament that these fears pre­vented a frank dis­cus­sion for years of whether we should be try­ing to curb the growth of pop­u­la­tion in our own in­ter­ests.

Women’s rights are cen­tral to this fram­ing of the ar­gu­ment. Hundreds of mil­lions of women around the world, but mainly in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, have fam­i­lies big­ger than they wish, be­cause they are be­ing de­nied the abil­ity to con­trol their own re­pro­duc­tive health, ac­cord­ing to Pop­u­la­tion Ac­tion In­ter­na­tional (pop­u­la­tion­ac­tion.org).

Although the planet may be able to sup­port bil­lions more peo­ple than are fore­cast to join us, the ques­tion of how all of those new peo­ple can live de­cently, rather than in un­nec­es­sary mis­ery, will not be an­swered by na­ture or tech­nol­ogy but by pol­i­tics.

Whether our po­lit­i­cal sys­tems can cope with the strain – of com­pe­ti­tion for re­sources, of the dis­tri­bu­tion of Earth’s nat­u­ral wealth, of the po­ten­tial for run­away cli­mate change, and of the eco­nomic and so­cial crises that will fol­low – with­out col­laps­ing into des­ti­tu­tion or war is a mat­ter for con­jec­ture.

Asked what he hopes for the seven bil­lionth child, Ad­nan is un­hesi­tat­ing: “I wish that the birth of the seven bil­lionth child brings peace to the planet.”

From some­one else, this might sound like a pi­ous cliche. But from Ad­nan’s fourth-floor bed­room win­dow, you can look out to see an­other block of flats close by. More than 15 years af­ter the war in Bos­nia-herze­gov­ina of­fi­cially ended, the walls still bear the scars of hundreds of bul­lets. – Guardian News & Me­dia 2011

A child is born: Some­where in the world to­day, the planet’s seven bil­lionth baby was born. It’s been only 12 years since the six bil­lionth baby was born and shown off to the me­dia (be­low) by then Un sec­re­tary-gen­eral Kofi an­nan. ad­nan ne­vic was born two min­utes past mid­night on oct 12 in Sara­jevo in 1999.

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