Counting the world’s population

Counting the world’s population (UN Photo/ Tim McKulka)

“As of February this year, 142 member states of 193 have already conducted a census and another 45 have scheduled one by 2014. Only six member states have no plans or have not scheduled a census yet…All the censuses up to now have enumerated 87% of the world’s population,” said Professor Paul Cheung, Director of the UN Statistics Division, at a UN DESA event held on 24 February.

The seminar, Counting the 7 Billion: The Future of Population and Housing Censuses, provided a discussion forum for statistical managers to share lessons learned from the 2010 round of population and housing censuses and reflect on the likely future of census-taking.

Keynote speaker Pali Lehohla, South African Statistician-General, addressed several issues in his presentation on the “Future of Population and Housing Censuses in Developing Countries”. He opened by questioning whether change was necessary given that census taking had not changed in the last seven thousand years.

He also asked if future censuses should change in terms of expansion of the content of the questionnaire and coverage of subjects. “Should it matter as far as improvement in the technology of mapping, collection, processing and dissemination are concerned? Should it matter in relation to how the census is defined given developments seen in France with the advent of rolling censuses? Should it matter in terms of the developments observed in Scandinavian countries where the management of administrative records has been at the core of governments and the count is about interfacing a variety of databases? What are the implications for privacy for information and safety of citizens before the state apparatus?” he asked.

Mr. Lehohla also discussed the advantages of hand held devices citing the case of Brazil, “Brazil has shown that these devices work and they have the power of geo-positioning too.” He also indicated that while the internet may be the future of census taking, it would not replace traditional methods in the developing world any time soon as literacy levels were low and access to internet infrastructure was challenging.

Several panel discussions with statisticians from all over the world were organized to answer these pertinent questions. The panels focused on emerging issues in data collection, challenges and benefits of using modern technologies and challenges confronting censuses.

While the future may bring several changes in census taking, one thing will not change, “We are in the business of counting people. The way we do this is through population and housing census,” concluded Professor Cheung.

Several statistics events have been organized this week as part of the 43rd Session of the UN Statistical Commission scheduled from 28 February to 2 March.

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