Statement on World Statistics Day at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo

Opening Remarks by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

Vice Mayor Yang Xiong,
Members of the international statistical community,

As the Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs at the United Nations, I welcome you to this celebration of the first World Statistics Day. It is a pleasure to launch this Day at the World Expo 2010 and I thank the Chinese Government and in particular, to the National Bureau of Statistics, Commissioner Ma and the City of Shanghai and all the organizers for making it possible.

A special welcome – and thank you – to the statistical experts in the audience who have made long journeys to join us today.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wonder what your first thought was when you heard about World Statistics Day. Did you think “why is the UN celebrating statistics?” or “what does one do on a statistics day?”. Or maybe some of you thought “it’s about time that we have a World Statistics Day!” I am sure that there were many impressions and opinions about this idea.

The truth is, however, that statistics permeate modern life. They are everywhere we turn – in advertisements for products on TV and in information we get from our doctors, teachers and other professionals. Official statistics collected by governments affect countless aspects of our daily lives. And they are vital for economic and social development of poor and underserved communities.

Statisticians are the people that enable all of these activities to happen. Their work is not public, however, and few people understand or appreciate their contributions to society. The purpose of World Statistics Day is to increase public awareness about the achievements of statisticians, especially those who work on official government statistics. Through events like this one today, the United Nations aims to acknowledge and celebrate statisticians. We honor their contributions to public service, along with their professionalism and integrity in reporting accurate and objective information to the international community.

We also hope to inspire a new generation of statisticians who incorporate these three core values – service, professionalism and integrity – into their future careers.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The United Nations and the entire international development community are especially reliant on the work of statisticians. Allow me to outline just a few areas of UN work that are driven by statistics.

As many of you know, the United Nations and its 192 Member States are tackling poverty and its related challenges through a framework called the Millennium Development Goals or “MDGs”. The goals were agreed to ten years ago in the year 2000. They aim to dramatically reduce extreme poverty levels, improve access to education, and decrease gender inequality, disease and environmental degradation. The deadline for achieving the goals is 2015 – very close upon us.

Statistics, ladies and gentlemen, make it possible for us to develop frameworks like the MDGs. Statistical information is as crucial in fighting poverty as political will and well-funded social service programmes. Without continuous data collection and analysis at national and international levels, we could not make sound, informed decisions and create viable plans that mobilize support and action from worldwide governments. We need accurate and comprehensive baseline data to understand where we are at and where we need to go.

Each year statistics enable us to measure progress against the Millennium Development Goals. At the MDG Summit last month in New York, they bore us good news. Some goals are likely to be met, such as the one on halving the proportion of people who live in extreme poverty by 2105. Statistics also conveyed sobering news. They gave us a realistic picture about overall progress on the MDGs: it has been too slow and uneven among countries and regions. We have to redouble efforts in many areas, including in maternal health and in primary education – especially in Sub-Saharan Africa – or these goals may not be met.

So statistics are vital for measuring our progress at the field levels in improving the desperate conditions that billions of people live in today.

Statistical input from countries on economic indicators is also crucial. The recent financial and economic crisis underscored just how important it is to constantly assess and reassess the meaning of complex economic indices. The United Nations is grateful for the increasing number of countries that share reliable and objective economic data with the Organization, especially through the System of National Accounts. This system consists of an integrated set of macroeconomic accounts, balance sheets and tables based on internationally agreed concepts, definitions, classifications and accounting rules. I commend the 2008 revision of this system and the strong collaboration by many countries and international agencies that behind it.

China has officially endorsed a number of standards that will facilitate our work. With its lightening pace of industrial development, China’s official statistics have grown in importance – for the country itself and for the world at large to know about. I applaud the successful conduct of China’s economic, agricultural, and population censuses, the revision of its statistical laws in 2009 and its dedicated, statistical staff that aspires to the highest professional standards.

In addition to the contribution of economic data, another core conduit of statistics comes from national population and housing censuses. This data feeds into a vast range of UN research reports and publications that are used by governments and organizations to develop their own policies and development strategies.

In 2005, the United Nations launched the 2010 World Population Census Programme. Its goal is to ensure that each Member State conducts a population and housing census at least once between 2005 and 2014. In this year alone, 103 countries have conducted a census. China will be one of the countries to undertake a census in 2010, bringing the total number of people counted this year to 3 billion. Thanks to stronger and more effective statistical communities at the national level, more countries than ever are carrying out timely and efficient censuses.

The statistical capacity of many countries has improved significantly in recent years. Technological advances have played a big part here, especially in China which has been using cutting edge technologies. Indeed, it is an exciting time to work in statistics; data can be collected and analyzed in faster and more efficient ways than ever before. Through the internet, smart phones and social networking services, data can be disseminated to huge new audiences. For the first time people find publicly available information about their communities, cities and countries.

Access to new technologies and statistical methodologies, however, is uneven. Many developing countries lack the financial and technical resources needed to carry out censuses that meet international standards. They are unable to track poverty levels, disease incidence and gender equality metrics. Thus they fall further behind. Making the latest statistical technologies and know-how available to all national statistical teams therefore, must be the highest priority for the global statistical community. The Statistics Division in my Department of Economic and Social Affairs can offer some technical support to countries in need but we need countries to help each other as well. Today I encourage you all to consider ways that you can contribute to this goal.

I also ask that you consider how your work can better support policies and development strategies that support gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Data collection instruments that measure violence against women, for example, are crucial for advancing policies and legal frameworks that will end such violence. There has been tremendous progress in this area. Eighty-seven countries have appointed a gender focal point or created a gender unit in their National Stati

stical Offices. Almost all of them – 82 offices — have reported a wide range of substantive activities on gender statistics. China is one of them.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The United Nations Statistical Commission was established over 60 years ago, in 1947, so that countries would come together and share data in the name of helping the world’s poor and vulnerable populations. Thanks to today’s international statistical community, and its core values of public service, integrity and professionalism, the United Nations has a more robust and comprehensive statistical system ever before. I applaud the hard work of all national statistical offices for carrying out the day to day tasks that make it possible. They are not only contributing to social and economic development but to worldwide peace.

Indeed, the setting for this first World Statistics Day, at this incredible World Expo in Shanghai, could not be more appropriate. The work of statisticians often involves the cross cultural communication and collaboration that this Expo exemplifies and celebrates.

Thank you and may you all enjoy the day’s activities.