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Column An open letter to the world’s seven billionth child

As the world’s population officially hits 7,000,000,000, Tom Arnold of Concern tells today’s baby what lies in store.

The UN has declared that today, October 31, will be the date that the world’s population officially reaches seven billion.

Tom Arnold, CEO of Concern Worldwide, here writes an open letter to the seven billionth child.


Welcome to our world.

Before you grow up, there are a few things you should know. I don’t want to scare you, but let’s get some of the bad stuff up front so you will have no illusions. Call it ‘tough love’.
Your life chances are a lottery.

We don’t know where you have been born, but you’ll have a better chance of survival if you’ve been born in the developed world. If you happened to be born in Somalia, your chances are not great, to be honest, as it has the world’s highest child mortality rate, with almost one in five children dying before their fifth birthday. That’s why Concern and other international agencies and authorities have identified adequate nutrition during the first thousand days as critical to a child’s survival and long-term health prospects.

Looking at it positively, the identification of maternal and child health as the key to combating mortality rates is a recent breakthrough, so it’s real progress.

‘You might be fortunate to live past 50′

The longevity of your life is substantially out of your control as it, again, depends on where you are born. The good news is that the world’s average life expectancy has increased from 48 years in 1955 to 67 years today. The bad news is that if you’ve been born in a country like Sierra Leone, you might be fortunate to live past 50. If you were born in Ireland, you’re looking at 80, and in Japan it’s 82.

The reality is that life expectancy in the poorest nations is almost half that of the industrialised, richer nations due to under-nutrition, inadequate water and sanitation and public health and education issues.

You’d be right if you’re spotting a trend here…

On the plus side, though, the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) were developed and signed-up to by the UN member countries in 2000 with the aim of reducing mortality and morbidity, thereby increasing adult and child survival rates in the poorest developing countries, so it’s not all doom and gloom. While some countries look like they won’t achieve their MDG targets by 2015, overall it’s heading in the right direction.

There’s another harsh reality you need to be aware of: only two percent of the world’s population own more than 50% of the global wealth, while the poorest 50% of people own just 1%. The 225 richest people on the planet now earn the same as the poorest 2.7 billion – 40% of all humanity. It’s another cruel imbalance.

‘A setback in the number of hungry people’

Then there are people who believe you, as the seventh billionth person, represent a world population that is too big, is unsustainable, that there are only finite resources and by limiting population we can confront world hunger and other imbalances. This is an antiquated idea initially propagated by Thomas Malthus in the 1700s. I think we can safely say the world has advanced since then, and so has the thinking on this issue.

In 1969 – when the world’s population was approaching four billion – the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated that the percentage of undernourished people in the world was just below 35 per cent. This declined to 20 per cent in 1990 and 16 per cent in 2010. That said, while the proportion of hungry people has fallen over the past 50 years, the absolute number rose throughout the period, especially – you guessed it – in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, developing countries as a group have seen an overall setback in terms of the number of hungry people, reaching one billion for the first time in 2009, which is pretty much where it still is.

Due to climate change, the world you have been born into faces massive consequences if we adults don’t act now and with decisiveness to leave a positive legacy for you. Some progress is being made at international level, but it remains too slow.

The poorest populations are not the world’s biggest consumers and exploiters and extremely poor people are in general very aware of their ‘fragile and precarious environments’.

It is only just and fair that people living in extreme poverty are consulted and actively engaged in exploring sustainable solutions to reduce pressure on planet earth and to increase the quality of life for the benefit of ALL people.

‘People are the solution, not the problem’

And who knows where technology and innovation will lead us. They might be on the iPhone 25 by the time to you reach your pre-teens and that kind of technology, as well as the internet, has already had a transformational impact on the spread of democracy and the overthrow of repression and inequality even just in the past year during the elongated Arab Spring. Technology and innovation can be applied in all kinds of ways, many of which have not even been thought of, or developed, yet. But people are in control of technology and its uses. We’re in trouble if it becomes the other way round!

So, people are central to the solution, not the problem. I hope you will be able to play a constructive part.

Food security, agricultural investment as part of national and international development strategies and in the allocations of aid resources are all within the control of people. A fairer distribution of wealth lies with people. Dealing with issues around climate change and planning for them lies with people. Confronting racial and gender inequality lies with people.

Even solving the current global economic and fiscal crisis, of which you are undoubtedly and I hope blissfully unaware right now, rests with people.

The cracks are there for all to see and must be confronted. Given the global turbulence right now, potentially wonderful opportunities exist for people to talk to each other and get things, if not absolutely right, then better and more balanced.

We’re working on it…

Your friend,


Tom Arnold is the CEO of Concern Worldwide.

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