Population censuses around the world are a resource of basic civilian information and can assist in the workings of the smallest administration areas, including drafting development projects. Furthermore, they can also assist in the distribution of natural resources, reviewing borders and population density, making decisions in constructing schools, hospitals, health departments, roads and other basic infrastructure, and conducting research in various areas.
Thirty years after 1983, the first nationwide population and housing census was conducted across Myanmar in 2014, from 30 March to 10 April. There were 80,556 designated areas for compiling the census and it was done to professional international standards. The census showed the national population was 51,486,253 back then.
The census helped to produce an early demographic list, a main report, state/regional reports, an image of Myanmar formed from the census, an employment and business report, religious demographic report, township-level and sub-township-level reports and even 13 in-depth research papers.
National development projects and other initiatives after 1983 were mostly conducted on yearly estimates and this practice continued for thirty years until the 2014 Census was compiled. The processes became more exact and efficient after that. The information from the census helped not just the government, but also other international and domestic organizations and researchers.
The census made drafting short and long term projects more efficient. In essence, the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, assisting government departments, UNFPA, international organizations and civil society organizations should be commended for their efforts in compiling the valuable information contained in the 2014 Census.
An interim census emerges
Conducting a nationwide survey for compiling a census is vastly time-consuming and requires a lot of resources, human and otherwise, that most countries only conduct them once every ten years. It would follow then that the next census for Myanmar would be done in 2024.
However, various sectors across the globe are developing at a rapid pace and socioeconomic facts and information are changing at the same quick pace. Ten years is too wide a gap to fulfill the deficit of information in the period before the next census. Thus, we see our neighbours conducting interim censuses to compensate.
The Department of Population used population science and the 2014 Census to estimate Myanmar’s population has grown to 54,101,253 in an announcement made on 1 April this year. This means there was an increase of 2.6 million people between 2014 to 2019.
Just as the population increases and changes every year, we can logically assume that socioeconomic changes must be taking place as well. Modern numbers and information are needed to design accurate projects. That is why Myanmar will also conduct an interim census so as to see the differences between it and the 2014 Census and to produce updated information.
Another reason for the interim census is to make estimates for 2024 as accurate as possible when comparing it to the 2014 Census and the changes to the population and socio-economic situation that will come about in the decade between them. It would also aid in future research papers and the implementation of Myanmar’s Sustainable Development Plan.
The interim census may not be as in-depth as the 2014 Census but it will at least aim to gather information at the district-level of each state and region. But it will still follow the same four steps as the last census, and this involves preparation, gathering information, compilation, and reviewing and finalization.
Another difference is the census won’t be conducted at the same time but rather collected from designated sample areas. The working committees will still be formed in the same way as before. Maps compiled in the 2014 Census were digitized using Google Map and GIS technology and compiling data on the number of buildings and such went smoother when drawing from past experience.
A total of 4,200 sample areas have been designated for the interim census and data will be collected for district-level statistics and indexes. One designated area will contain 35 households and each surveyor must collect data from 70 households within a span of 14 days and every four surveyor will constitute one team with a separate leader.
Collection in four phases
The interim census will be done in four phases with the first phase conducted in Kachin State, Chin State and Nay Pyi Taw Council Territory from 18 November to 1 December, 2019. The second phase will be done in Kayin, Kayah and Mon states and Tanintharyi and Ayeyawaddy regions from 11 to 24 December 2019.
The third phase will be in Bago, Sagaing and Magway regions from 2 to 15 January, 2020 and the fourth and final phase will be in Shan State, Rakhine State, Yangon Region and Mandalay Region from 15 to 28 January of the same year.
The interim census will be done using the latest Computer-Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) technology on mobile tablets for the first time. Government department officials will be conducting the census and aided by energetic local youths who would have received proper training beforehand.
The technological advancement is another difference from the 2014 Census. While it was done using the old fashioned pencil-on-paper method for answering 41 questions to citizens, the mobile tablet will allow faster and accurate recording of citizens answering to 110 questions. These will all be uploaded to the main server of the Population Department headquarters in Nay Pyi Taw. The increase in number of questions is to accommodate the needs of government departments and others whose works rely on this data.
Of course, the use of modern technology means there is a requirement for skilled mobile tablet users and the expenses concerned with purchasing the equipment and related accessories. On the other hand, there is a dramatic reduction of human resource, time and energy consumption and the work can additionally be then faster and more efficiently.
Furthermore, there will also be an evident decrease in human error when inputting information. Not only that, the information collected can be disseminated in real time and mobile tablets can be used in future projects as well.
The 110 questions to be asked in the interim census can be divided into 11 different categories. These include 13 questions on population information, 2 questions on domestic migration, 12 questions on education, 10 questions on labour affairs, 8 questions on reproduction, 1 question on living with disabilities, 5 questions on elderly life, 7 questions on inclusiveness, receiving assistance and quality of life, 15 questions on migrating abroad, 11 questions on house and home, 14 questions on environmental and individual cleanliness, and 2 questions on death and maternal death.
Interviewing all 110 questions will consume an average 45 minutes per person and the interviewers are accountable for maintaining confidentiality of the interviewees. The interviewers are also instructed to conduct only on the basis of data-gathering for the interim census and cannot use the interview for probing into other unrelated matters.
The questions mentioned above are all related to establishing the necessary indexes and statistics to run projects for socio-economic development. The answers of each household will be compiled and evaluated to produce useful data for regional development.
While the interim census will not be as far-reaching or comprehensive as the census before it, it will provide valuable data when used for comparison and to see changes reflected. This will without a doubt supplement the efforts of the nation.
However, it requires the active participation and trust of the people of Myanmar. Everyone’s truthful answer is a point towards our collective development. The theme of the 2014 census campaign was ‘A nationwide census – Let us all Participate’ and it applies just as equally to the currently ongoing interim census. (Translated by Pen Dali)