Volume 15, No.8 - August 2011

Capacity development

Censuses help achieve Millennium Goals and improve people’s lives

Interview with Keiko Osaki Tomita, Chief, Demographic and Social Statistics Branch, UN Statistics Division, DESA

Can you please briefly present yourself?

“I am a demographer from Japan. I now lead the area of demographic and social statistics in the UN Statistics Division, DESA, here in New York. This includes a programme to support censuses held in practically every country.”

Why is the UN Statistics Division involved in censuses?

“The importance of population census as a procedure to systematically acquire and record information about the members of a population has long been recognized. Since the end of the 19th century, all countries in the world have been encouraged to conduct censuses. Since the 1950s, the Statistics Division has promoted population censuses as the secretariat to the decennial World Programme on Population and Housing Censuses, under the authority of the UN Statistical Commission.”

What is your office actually doing?

“The Statistics Division has played a central role in supporting national census taking, especially for developing countries. Our office coordinates work on setting standards and methods, for instance, through publishing Principles and Recommendations for the Population and Housing Censuses. We provide technical assistance to enhance national statistical capacity to undertake censuses through arranging thematic seminars and workshops or by providing advice. We also compile and disseminate census results from countries or areas on-line as well as in print.”

Are there countries where there is no census at all? Which ones?

“The current 2010 World Programme on Population and Housing Censuses, adopted in 2005 by the UN Statistical Commission, spans from 2005 to 2014. An overwhelming majority of countries or areas in the world have committed to conduct a census at least once during this period. However, six countries have not yet indicated when they would carry out a census: Iraq, Lebanon, Myanmar, Somalia, Uzbekistan and Western Sahara. Still, this represents a significant improvement over the 2000 round, when 27 countries did not conduct a census.”

How many censuses are scheduled this year and how many people have been counted so far in the 2010 world programme?

“Since the beginning of the current census round in 2005, 155 countries and areas have already conducted a census (by 1 July). This year, 2011, is one of the peak years of the 2010 round, with 69 countries conducting censuses, enumerating an estimated 2.3 billion people (33 % of the world population). It is expected that by the end of the round in 2014, almost 99 % of the world’s total population will have been enumerated.”

Why is it so important that everyone be counted?

“The data collected by census help a nation, region or community make major decisions for the future. Censuses are a comprehensive source of statistical information for economic and social development planning and for administrative purposes. For example, the results of a census are used to distribute and allocate government funds for education, health services and delineating electoral districts. Census data can also be used for academic research or business marketing.”

Are censuses playing a role to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015?

“Some MDG indicators, such as literacy rate and unemployment rate of youth, can be computed from census data, hence allowing governments to measure and monitor the progress made in a comparable manner. Also, note that the denominator for most MDG indicators is the total population figure, which can be produced by population census.”

What new developments do you observe in nowadays’ censuses?

“The main innovations of the 2010 round of censuses are the use of new methods to obtain data and modern technology. While most countries still conduct their census in a traditional manner, an increasing number of countries are producing census data by using registers either alone of in combination with other data collection mechanisms. We also witness that many countries have adopted new technologies such as mobile devices, geospatial information systems and the Internet in phases of a census operation. According to a recent survey, more than 30 countries or areas are providing an option for Internet-based self-enumeration. New technologies contribute to improving the completeness, timeliness and quality of census results.”

Are censuses somewhat reflecting the changes in people’s lifestyle?

“People have become more migratory and, in urban areas, a growing number of individuals live alone in a single household. Such changes in lifestyles sometimes make difficult for census enumerators to identify and reach out respondents. It is said that there has been a growing concern about privacy and confidentiality of the information collected, which might have affected the response rate of censuses. Changes in lifestyles, coupled with the growing cost for census, have led several Governments to look into other options for enumeration, such as the use of internet.”

What message would you like to convey in this week during which World Population Day is celebrated (11 July)?

“I am pleased that the World Population Day this year focuses on population’s size and growth. At a time when the world’s population is expected to reach the seven billion mark, it is important to reflect on the challenges that the sheer size of population poses on Earth, and to reassess how to cope with or maximize people’s power. Population and Housing Censuses reveal key population data, ranging from the size, growth, age structure, poverty to the spatial distribution of a population. Such information increasingly becomes critical to plan the future and improve people’s lives. Let me also emphasize these important words from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message for the Day: ‘Promoting the Millennium Development Goals fosters prosperity and peace. And protecting our planet safeguards the natural resources that sustain us all’.”

Samples of upcoming censuses:

Suriname: 1 August
Botswana: 22 August
Namibia: 28 August
Uruguay: 1 September
Pakistan: 12 September
Estonia: 18 September
Hungary: 1 October
South Africa: 10 October
Romania: 22 October
Austria: 31 October
Spain 1: November
Sweden: 31 December

For more information:

Principles and Recommendations for the Population and Housing Censuses: