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Seven Billion and Counting

Shalom Yitzchaki

As the world welcomed the seven billionth baby to its ranks, celebrations were tempered by worries over the strain a population boom will have on the world’s already depleted resources. But that didn’t stop the cakes, the festivities, and the international cameras. What will the world look like when the eighth millionths baby makes his entrance?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

 With over 300,000 babies born every day, no one could be sure that October 31, 2011, would be the day the world’s population would hit seven billion. But that didn’t deter the United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon from issuing internationally televised congratulations to Danica May Camancho, weighing in at 5.5 pounds (2.5 kilograms) to a blitz of camera flashes in a hospital in Manila, Philippines, as the seven billionth citizen of Planet Earth. 

For almost eleven years now, since the birth of the world’s six billionth child, UN demographers and the United States Census Bureau have been waiting for the moment when an additional billion human beings would be added to the world’s population ranks. While the US Census Bureau maintains that the world population will not hit the seven billion mark until March 30, 2012, the UN was not deterred. So Seven Billion Day got underway despite the wrath of demographers, and gave the Philippines a reason to rejoice. 

While the Philippines was the first country to declare a “winner,” babies born on October 31 were showered with gifts in various countries around the world.

The digital numbers on the World Population Clock in UN headquarters change almost as fast as the digits on the United States National Debt Clock in Times Square as the world’s population increases by 215,120 every day. Just eleven years ago, then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visited a Sarajevo hospital and crowned newborn Adnan Mevic as the six billionth human in the world’s population register.

It was a symbolic choice, of course, since just like last week’s ceremony, no one knew exactly which baby around the world was number six billion. But after a decade of war in the Balkans, Sarajevo seemed like a fine place to select a newborn who would be an emblem for hopes of world peace.

After his five minutes of fame, whatever happened to Adnan Mevic, symbol of peace for mankind? What happened to the grandiose promises and bombastic speeches delivered by the prominent guests who had been photographed with him?

Adnan is now a seventh-grader, living with his parents in a single-room apartment in the Bosnian city of Visoko. At the time, his parents were granted a monthly stipend of $140, a gift from the municipality of Sarajevo in appreciation for the gift that had landed in their laps — the privilege of being home to an infant who had achieved such worldwide fame — but the money was spent purchasing medications for Adnan’s ailing grandmother. Today, Adnan’s father, Jasmin, is terminally ill with colon cancer, and his mother lost her job as a textile worker three years ago. Adnan himself has been diagnosed with a small hole in his heart. The family survives on $350 a month and cannot afford the healthcare they need.

After the most recent festivities, reporters flocked to Sarajevo to see how the previous billionth youngster was faring. They were treated to albums stuffed with pictures and newspaper clippings celebrating their son’s birth, but what use are newspaper clippings to them when their refrigerator is empty?

“Adnan’s birth was a very special occasion for us,” says Adnan’s mother. “The festive atmosphere made us feel something really important was going on. But the day after the celebrations ended, they completely forgot about us, and our lives returned to their sad, familiar pattern. We never heard from the UN again. We never received anything from them, not even a birthday card.

What about all the promises? “Other than the ceremonies and cakes, nothing has come of it. We are in desperate need of assistance, but once all the festivities were over, we didn’t hear from anyone.”

Adnan Mevic is still a sometime celebrity within the Serbian media; three years ago, he was invited to be the guest of honor at a ceremony marking the opening of a new pediatric ward in Sarajevo’s municipal hospital. “The ceremony was very nice,” his mother said. “The irony is that if Adnan becomes sick or is injured, we couldn’t cover the cost in that very facility.”

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