8 August 2003


Press Briefing


Given the dearth of demographic information about Iraq’s population over the past several decades, the receipt of the national report of Iraq’s 1997 Population and Housing Census by the United Nations Statistics Division was an important development, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press briefing today.

Stressing the importance of public review and discussion of Iraq’s 1997 census, Mary Chamie, the Chief of the Demographic and Social Statistics Branch, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said it was an important moment for the Iraqi population to participate in the review of the data provided in the census.

In most parts of the world, including Iraq, the population and housing census was the largest public operation carried out by a government.  The information derived from censuses was essential for general planning, monitoring, the assessment of development activities, the distribution of services and government representation.  Such information was also used to take stock of the general state of the nation.  Because of the considerable effort required to conduct a census, they were generally undertaken every five or 10 years.

The national report, which had been produced by the Iraq Central Statistical Office under the planning authority of Iraq, had been prepared and published in Arabic, she said.  The United States Census Bureau and the Coalition Provisional Authority had provided the published general report to the United Nations in June.

She said the Iraq census international assessment meeting, held in July in Amman, Jordan, had reviewed the census report.  The United States Census Bureau had organized the international meeting and had invited international experts from a number of countries, including some of Iraq’s neighbouring countries, and the United Nations to help assess Iraq’s plan for a future census.  The meeting had also reviewed the 1997 census, as well as earlier census data, for their potential to meet the immediate needs for population information in Iraq.  Further analysis of the data was needed to determine the strength and limitations of the information.

Prior to the October 1997 census, earlier censuses had been conducted in October 1987 and October 1977.  While the 1987 census had included all of Iraq’s 18 governorates, the latest census had covered only 15.  Three Kurdish autonomous regions comprising some 12 per cent of the total national population in 1987 had not been covered by the 1997 census.  Preparations for the 1997 census had taken 10 months, as compared to the 24 months for the 1987 census.  The cost of the 1997 census was some 60 per cent less than that reported for the 1987 census.

Until now, the results of the 1997 census had not been widely available, she added.  The report included information on housing, occupancy, ownership by governorate, housing characteristics, age and sex distribution, geographic distribution, place of birth, children born and surviving, education and literacy, economic activity, births in the past year, and previous place and duration of residence.  Also included were cross tabulations of demographic characteristics, such as age and sex and marital status by economic activity and education.  Other topics covered in the census included residential status, source of income and disability.

The overall quality of the 1997 census appeared to be good, she said.  There were some notable distinctions, however, and greater review of the data was required.  Public dissemination of the data should encourage the assessment needed to evaluate the results of the census.

The international assessment team in Jordan had agreed on the immediate need for an intense review of the population data from the 1997 census and its comparison with other demographic resources, such as the 1987 census, and registry data from the World Food Programme (WFP) and other sources for the three governorates not included in the 1997 census.  That information was needed to provide the “immediately reasonable and maximally valuable” results for national planning purposes.

Strategic planning for Iraq’s next census would require extensive rehabilitation of the existing central system, she said.  Some believed that would take years.

Based on previous statistics, what was the current population of Iraq? a correspondent asked.  The Iraq Central Statistical Office had estimated that in 1997, there were some 22 million Iraqis, she said.  According to the United Nations Population Division estimates, the current population of Iraq was about 26 million.  In 2000, the population had been some 23 million.

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For information media. Not an official record.