Growing up in a crowded world
To mark World Population Day 2015, Inside Energy visited the world’s 7 billionth baby to find out what life has been like for her.
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.
Meeting the world's 8 billionth challenge
Title: 7 Billionth Baby
Duration: 2:03 minutes
7 Billionth Baby Film Transcript
[Background music plays]
Bright, uplifting music
Like many four-year-olds, Dhanica likes to watch YouTube. Unlike most, though, she’s watching herself, because four years ago, when she was born, she was chosen by the UN to be the symbol of population growth.
Posed photo of a smiling Dhanica.
Still of Dhanica and a little girl of about her age sitting on a bed, looking at a tablet device on Dhanica’s lap.
Video of Dhanica and her friend looking at the tablet device.
Dhanica and her mother seated on the edge of their couch at the small desk which holds a computer. Dhanica stands up, continuing to look at the computer screen.
Close-up of head and shoulders of a more serious Dhanica. She is looking sideways at the computer screen.
View of a browser open to show a video on YouTube. The video has the title ‘’Philippines welcomes symbolic ‘7 billionth baby’’’. The onscreen YouTube video changes to show a newborn infant on an examination table, a nurse and camera crew surrounding her. A camera crew in white lab coats is filming something off-screen.
She’s the world’s 7 Billionth Baby.
Close-up of a newspaper clipping. It bears the headline: Philippines welcomes 7 billionth baby Danica.
A smiling Dhanica, proudly holding up the newspaper clipping.
She was born in poverty, in the overcrowded metropolis of Manila, one of the many millions across Asia and around the world.
Camera pans across rooftops of a slum.
Crowded slum street.
A little girl climbs a tree growing on the side of the crowded street in the slum.
Since then she and her family have moved out to spare her the pollution of the big city.
Rooftop view of a section of crowded street in the slum.
View into a home in the slums as seen through a glassless window. Large cloths which act as screens are drawn aside.
Dhanica cannot be exposed to smoke and pollution, because she gets sick easily.
But things have not necessarily improved. The neighbourhood is friendly, but their home is basic.
Rain pouring down and running off a corrugated tin roof.
View from inside a home; rain drips through countless holes in the corrugated tin roof.
Indoors, looking upward at the exposed corrugated tin roof.
Interior of a very cramped and modest home.
The family only use a few appliances, but there is little money left when they’ve bought food and paid their electricity bill.
Verandah in front of Dhanica’s home. Empty clothes hangers hang from a line strung high across the verandah.
A bright, bare light hangs from the rafters of the corrugated tin roof.
Dhanica and her mother at the computer.
Dhanica points at the monitor.
Children from all over the globe write to the 7 Billionth Baby, but her fame now doesn’t mean her future is secure.
Letters, many with maple leaves stuck on them, addressed to Dhanica.
Dhanica holding in each hand a large photo print of the pile of letters.
A close-up of a letter to Dhanica. It reads: ‘’Dear Dhanica. We are a fifth grade class from Bremen (North Germany) and we would like to welcome you as the 7,000,000,000th member of our society. In the envelope you will find some pictures we made for you and your family. Each maple leaf has its own personal wishes for you and yours.’’
Close-up of the letter in Dhanica’s mother’s hands.
As parents, we hope that we’ll be able to provide for her needs and I hope she can someday lift us out of poverty.
Dhanica and her mother seated on a couch, looking at a photo album together. Dhanica points and exclaims at certain photos.
Camera viewpoint shifts and shows view from above.
Close-up of a page in the album showing scenes from Dhanica’s birth.
Millions like Dhanica will all put increasing pressure on energy production.
So how to generate the electricity they’ll need without adding to pollution and climate change?
The solutions won’t be easy, but together, we must find them, and soon, so that all the babies beyond 7 billion have a brighter future.
Still of three little girls smiling broadly at the camera. One of the girls shows the peace sign. The slum is visible behind them.
Posed still of a mother and her infant in the slum.
Still of a street in the slum.
Still of a scene across rooftops in the slum.
Night-time scene, taken from ground level, of a busy street. Car and motorcycle headlights zoom by.
Night-time scene of pedestrians walking along a fairly busy city street.
Night-time scene of cars and cyclists on a busy city road.
Night-time scene of a city apartment or office block. Many lights are on.
Night-time scene of brightly-lit skyscrapers on a city skyline.
Night-time scene of a brightly-lit city apartment or office block.
Looking up at a bright neon sign in red, blue and green.
Night-time scene of a brightly-lit city skyline across a large body of water.
Shell logo on white background.
Future of Energy
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.
Dhanica and her parents share a one-bedroom home 25km east of Manila
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.
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.”
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