Story published in July 2015

She is nearly four. But friends and family members all delight in calling Dhanica Camacho “Seven”, a nickname befitting a child whose birth officially brought the world’s population to 7 billion.

The United Nations gave her that title on October 31, 2011, to put a human face to the challenges of a growing world population.

Dhanica, born at Manila’s Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in the Philippines, was introduced to the world under the glare of television cameras and an explosion of camera flash bulbs. Her photo made the front page of national and foreign newspapers. Video clips from news bulletins discussing her birth were posted on YouTube.

“Mama, this is me!” the lively Filipino girl calls out today when she sees herself on the screen.

Since her birth, the outside world has largely forgotten Dhanica, says her mother, Camille. Sometimes we question what it really means to be the 7 billionth baby,” she adds.

Yet in reality, Dhanica’s plight encapsulates more than ever the strains of an increasingly crowded, urbanised and energy-needy world.

Florante, 26, Dhanica’s father and the family’s sole breadwinner, brings in a modest weekly income of about $33 from driving a jeepney, a popular form of public transport that looks like a cross between a bus and a jeep, three times a week. The family’s budget gets squeezed even further when it rains and flash floods prevent Florante from plying his usual route through Manila’s business district.

The family uses most of its income to pay for food, which Camille says she finds increasingly expensive, and electricity. To keep their power bill down, the family of four limits the use of household appliances to two electric fans, lights, and a desktop computer. They have no fridge and use cylinders of liquefied petroleum gas for cooking.

We hope that Dhanica can someday lift us out of poverty,” says Camille from the family’s one-bedroom home in Antipolo, a hilly city 25 kilometres east of Manila. “Life is hard. You feel the impact of higher costs of living. When there’s no income for the day, you feel like you are left with nothing.”

Anxieties like these will likely be heightened in the coming decades, with the global population expected to rise to 9.6 billion by the middle of the century from its current 7.3 billion, according to estimates by the United Nations.

There will be higher demand for energy as the global population grows and hundreds of millions of people leave poverty behind. Yet this surge in energy has to be met while lowering carbon emissions to tackle climate change, and reducing air pollution from increased traffic and industrialisation.

Dhanica Camacho
Dhanica wants to be a doctor when she grows up

For the Camacho family, these are not abstract issues. They had to uproot from Manila in 2011 and move to Antipolo because pollution from worsening traffic conditions in the Philippine capital was causing Dhanica, who was born prematurely at seven months, to fall ill.

The family’s economic future is uncertain. But Camille hopes that Dhanica, who says she wants to be a doctor when she grows up, will use some of the gifts given to her at birth to help lift them out of poverty. Dhanica has free healthcare as well as the offer of a college scholarship when she turns 18, giving her far better opportunities for education than her parents ever had.

“We’re proud that our child has a title to something,” says Camille. “We’re hoping that she’ll have a bright future because she’s the 7 billionth baby.”

More in Inside Energy

Widening horizons

How a training programme in Patagonia gives people new skills for the growing local energy industry.

You may also be interested in

The energy future

How will the world produce more, cleaner energy to power our homes and cities, and fuel our vehicles in decades to come?

Access to energy

For many in the world, better access to energy could mean the difference between poverty and prosperity: it affects their health, education and their ability to earn a living.