Once celebrated, world's 6 billionth baby now lives in poverty in Bosnia
Adnan Nevic is a sturdy, good-natured 11-year-old living in the Bosnian town of Visoko, just outside the capital, Sarajevo.
Like many children around the world, Adnan worries over his grades at school -- and willingly admits there's some room for improvement.
Adnan is more than just an average schoolchild with the usual concerns about classes and grades. He also bears a distinction as the baby who, nearly 12 years ago, became the symbol of a major population milestone when he was named the world's 6 billionth inhabitant.
Adnan was given the title after he was born at two minutes after midnight on October 12, 1999 -- a day UN experts had dubbed "D6B" in preparation for the moment when the Earth's rapidly growing human population passed the historic threshold.
Kofi Annan, who was then UN secretary-general -- and went on to serve as Adnan's namesake -- was photographed holding the tightly swaddled Baby Six Billion, as he was called, in a Sarajevo hospital.
With more than three babies being born every second at that time, it was impossible to determine with absolute certainty when and where the world crossed the 6 billion mark. Some critics said it was far more likely the 6 billionth baby had been born in a country like China and India, which were experiencing massive population growth.
Annan defended Sarajevo as an appropriate site for the milestone, saying the event could help restore "the tolerance and multireligious atmosphere" that had been lost in the Balkans after nearly a decade of war.
One Special Day
Adnan's mother, Fatima, remembers being "very happy" at the birth of her first child after a long and difficult labor. When she was told he was the 6 billionth person, she adds, she was "even happier."
But the family has since fallen on hard times. Fatima, a former textile worker, lost her job after Bosnia's 1992-95 war and has difficulty finding employment in the economically stagnant Visoko region. Her husband, Jasminko, suffers from cancer and was no longer able to keep his job as a boiler operator.
The city of Sarajevo provides the Nevic family with a $140 monthly stipend in honor of Adnan's special status. But nearly all that money goes toward basic provisions for the household and medicine for Adnan's ailing father.
Fatima, whose face still occasionally breaks into the same radiant smile she displayed in newspaper photographs of her and her famous baby, says local authorities still come to the house every year on October 12 to celebrate Adnan's birthday.
...But That's Where It Ends
But, she says, the cakes and publicity have done nothing to improve the family's deepening poverty. "That day is special, the atmosphere makes it feel like he's really the 6 billionth inhabitant. And when we explain our situation, everyone is horrified," she says. "But only on that day, because the day after his birthday our lives continue in the same old way."
Adnan and his parents sleep in a single room in their small Visoko apartment, and the family cannot even afford the small payment to enroll Adnan in a local soccer league.
Fatima, who pores through an album of photographs and newspaper clippings about her son's famous beginnings, says she feels abandoned by both the Bosnian government and the international community.
Breaking into tears, she says her worst fear is that Adnan will become seriously ill and she will not be able to help him.
"My son was a guest of honor when a local pediatric department was opened three years ago. But I don't think we could even afford for him to be treated at this pediatric center in Sarajevo," Fatima says. "Thank God he's healthy, so I don't need anything for him. The only problem was that the doctors found a small hole in his heart."
Soon, Baby Seven Billion
The plight of Adnan and his family is an unintentional reflection of wider worries about the world's population growth.
The UN originally devised the D6B project to alert the world to the impending danger of a population explosion in poor and developing states. Researchers have already predicted Baby Seven Billion will be born in India in October 2011 -- right around the time that Adnan, Baby Six Billion, will turn 12.
Population experts say that the world is facing enormous challenges in feeding and housing its human inhabitants as birthrates and life expectancy continue to rise. The global population is expected to reach a staggering 9.3 billion by 2050, with 97 percent of the growth in less developed regions.
But such global issues mean little at the moment to Adnan, who is struggling with more immediate concerns. He says his dream is to go on a fishing trip alone with his father -- but that he'd gladly settle for just a little more help for his family.
"I would like most for them to help my father with his treatment, and then me. And that's it," Adnan says.