April 20th, 2012 | Posted in Population Basics
by Eric Zuehlke, web communications manager
Obviously, at PRB we care about censuses. Much of the analysis and communication we do rely on census data. They provide invaluable data on the size, composition, and other factors of a population, from the national level down to the smallest village. This in turn can lead to more effective social policies. With census data, funding can target the programs and areas that need it most, leading to healthier and more-educated people. But in many countries, lack of finances or infrastructure, war, or large amounts of remote populations can make getting accurate data or even conducting a census in the first place a major challenge.
UNFPA has just produced a fascinating new documentary on how censuses are conducted in five countries facing very difficult environments. From watching the film, you get a sense of just how complicated an undertaking a census is, but also how much can be achieved, given political will and support. But at the end of the day, conducting a census and gathering data isn’t just about abstract data and numbers; it’s about people and the challenges they face — learning more about their lives in order to improve their lives. As a UNFPA employee mentions in the documentary, there are some countries that haven’t conducted a census since the 1980s. This lack of data and evidence can lead to ineffective or nonexistent policies, hindering national development.
UNFPA’s website lists the challenges each country faces:
- In Chad, it has meant mapping vast, sparsely populated regions in the midst of political upheaval.
- In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, it involved overcoming barriers that restricted mobility.
- In Bolivia, or the Plurinational State of Bolivia as it is now so aptly named, conducting the census required fine-tuning questions and translating them into multiple languages to meet the needs of dozens of ethnic groups.
- In Indonesia, the census tracks extremely rapid growth and urbanization.
- In Belarus, it counts the nation’s dwindling population.
Below is a 4-minute preview of the film. The full 21-minute version is available on UNFPA’s website.
On a related note, former PRB president William Butz interviewed Terry Hull, professor of Demography in the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute, about the 2010 Indonesian census, the challenges of working in a multiethnic and geographically varied landscape, and the successes of using technology to reach more people: