Seven billion and counting

Persons coming to the United Nations in the next few weeks will see a large sign attached to the fence near the visitors’ entrance that reads in a bold heading: “7 BILLION” against a background of small photos of people from all over the globe. At the bottom of the sign the UN confidently states the 7 billionth person to arrive on earth will be born on October 31– Halloween! The precise date and number were not established by a tablet-bearing, other-world prophet, but are among the many data churned out by UN bureaucrats, statisticians and media-savvy publicists.
In preparation for the key date, the UN launched its “7 Billion Actions Campaign” on September 14 with a panel discussion on “A world of 7 billion people – Seizing the opportunities and meeting the challenges” organized by (who else?) the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The Executive Director of UNFPA, Nigerian doctor Babatunde Osotimehin, in addition to the usual population palaver, rendered a modern-day parable by telling about an article he read in National Geographic: if all the seven billion people on earth were to pose together for a group photo, they would cover the city of Los Angeles. Thus, he added, the growing population was “not about space” and that in dealing with the challenges “no one size fits all.”
The opening remarks by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon mentioned that “more than a quarter of the world’s people are between the ages of 10 and 24.” And so it was inevitable that the panel included “youth leader” Ms Imane Khachani from Morocco, whose remarks smacked of pure UN reproductive rights-family planning rhetoric. Clearly she is a representative of how the UN chooses certain young persons to indoctrinate and make them appear as exponents and spokespersons of youth thinking world wide. (However, many of us know better as the 1.5 million members of the NGO World Youth Alliance can attest to – youth who would have made better, more relevant panelists in my view!)
Also present was the Vice Chair of Johnson & Johnson, Ms Sheri McCoy, who spoke of her company’s commitment to the UN Millennium Development Goals of reducing mortality in women and children by 2015. J & J is involved in various partnerships with UN agencies and NGOs in addressing birth asphyxia, using mobile technology to convey health information to expectant mothers, providing support for HIV infected mothers, developing new HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis medicines, and training skilled birth attendants.
The September 14 event also served to launch a new UNFPA sponsored web site: Billed as “a global movement for all humanity,” the site features individuals and UNFPA partners, their efforts and actions to “make a difference” and then telling “7 billion stories.” Surely an impossible task, but content is also filtered through the unique UNFPA lens. Users can click on “all issues” and see that they are: poverty and inequality, women and girls, young people, reproductive rights, environment, aging, urbanization, and others. No entries were found (as of this writing) under reproductive rights, but a total of only 89 stories were on the entire site, perhaps indicating that the idea is not exactly firing up the world! Vincenzina Santoro is an international economist. She represents the American Family Association of New York at the United Nations.


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