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Thursday, August 5, 1999 Published at 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK


World's population reaches six billion

Every day 237,000 people are born

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Next Monday a most significant person will be born.

World Population
We do not know if the baby will be male or female, nor do we know where the birth will occur. It is most likely to be in a developing country, probably Africa or South-East Asia, but it could be anywhere, in your street, town or city.

There have only been five other children like him or her. They were born in 1800, 1930, 1960, 1975 and 1987. Notice their births are getting closer together.

According to one estimate, at 1833 GMT on Monday 9 August the six billionth person will enter the world.

Competing counters

There are several estimates as to when this event will occur. Some population counters on the Internet say it happened last month. The United Nations says it will not take place until October.

[ image: The seven billionth person could be born in 2012]
The seven billionth person could be born in 2012
Whoever is right, and next Monday seems as good an estimate as any, it is a significant event.

The human population reached a billion in 1800. Since then the billion marks have been coming at an ever-increasing rate. The five billionth person is 12 years old, the four billionth is 24, the three billionth is 39 and the two billionth is 69 years old.

With the exception of the billionth person, born in 1800, they may all be still alive.

Room to live

Every 24 hours on our planet some 237,000 people are born and 140,000 die. Of course they all require space and resources and a pertinent question is whether the Earth can cope with them.

It was question that occurred to an English cleric, Thomas Robert Malthus, more than 200 years ago.

[ image: Malthus believed that disease and famine would limit humanity's growth]
Malthus believed that disease and famine would limit humanity's growth
He believed that human population growth would outstrip the Earth's carrying capacity and that disease and famines would limit humanity's growth.

Some believe that it may happen like this, other say that mankind's ingenuity will always provide the solution to the problems we face.

But as we consider the state of our species just consider what the world would be like if it its population was shrunk to a representative 100 people with all the existing human ratios remaining the same. It would look like something like this:

  • One would be near death and one would be near birth
  • There would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans and eight Africans
  • 52 would be female, 48 would be male
  • Six people would possess 59% of the entire world's wealth
  • 80 would live in substandard housing, 70 would be unable to read, 50 would suffer from malnutrition
  • Only one would have a college education and only one would own a computer

Will it be the same when the seven billionth person is born in 2012?

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