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When Humans Hit 7 Billion, Will It Happen In India?

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The world is anticipating the birth of its 7 billionth person, as the United Nations predicts that the milestone baby will be born on Monday, Oct. 31. Demographers say the baby might be born in India, where an average of 51 babies are born every minute.

To get a feeling for the kind of world in which our 7 billionth citizen could grow up, it's worth a visit to the place that India's Census Bureau has identified as the densest place in the country.

Northeast Delhi has more than 29,000 people per square kilometer. That's only slightly more than Manhattan — but Manhattan is a high-rise city, with people stacked up tens of stories high.

Most buildings in northeast Delhi have no more than four or five floors — so the people are crowded into a smaller area, the mosh pit of modern Indian life.

That life flows in every kind of conveyance: motorized rickshaws crammed with a dozen people each; motorcycles carrying five family members at time. There are people everywhere.

Most Americans know what it's like to be part of a sea of people at a rally or a rock concert: It's exhilarating and exhausting, but sooner or later, it comes to an end. The noise stops. The people go home.

Now, try to imagine a place where the crush of people and the noise and the motion never stop.

If young Mr. or Miss Seven Billion were to be born here, it might be at a hospital like the Swami Dayanand Medical Centre.

The maternity ward is as loud and crowded as anyplace else in northeast Delhi, a dingy hall with 30 or so beds, where young women lie — sometimes two to a bed — with their new babies.

Dr. Venu Gopal, the medical director, says between 20 and 30 women give birth at this hospital every day. He is not optimistic about the crowded world that awaits the babies born here.

"The culture is going to change," he says. "There will be a lot of intolerance, and more physical violence, probably. And water and food are going to be a major crisis situation."

That is, Gopal says, unless the rest of us make room for the 7 billionth baby in a more hospitable world.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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