Census Underway To Measure Population, Income, Quality of Life

Four hours is how long it takes to count Cambodia’s mobile population, according to National Institute of Statistics Director General San Sy Than.

The 2008 national census—the first of its kind in 10 years and the only one to include portions of the country near the Thai border deem­ed too unstable to count in 1998—kicked off at 9 pm Sunday, when tens of thousands of trained census officials began counting those staying in guest houses and hotels, as well as those living in boats or on the street, San Sy Than said.

By 1 am Monday, they had finished counting what is arguably the hardest portion of the population to quantify, and, according to San Sy Than, there were very few hiccups.

“It was difficult to see in the dark, and we had to wake some people up-like cyclo drivers,” said San Sy Than, but other than that it was a smooth start to the historic household census, which is the first to use a digitized map and will continue through March 13, he said.

“It went well,” he said, adding that accurate data on maternal mortality and disability-—which are new questions to the census—will help of­ficials better locate and ad­dress pro­lem areas.

“It is useful for the development of the country,” he said.

Roughly 40,000 census officials will be knocking on the doors of every Cambodian and foreigner in the country over the next 10 days, asking where they were on “census night,” considered to be 12:00 am March 3. Those interviewed will be relied on to provide honest ac­counts of their gender, age, education, religion and family size, San Sy Than said, adding that a census law requires people to comply.

He estimated that the population will be around 14.5 million and the population growth rate, which measured 1.8 percent in 2004, will have declined due to economic growth.

“People are richer now, so they aren’t having as many kids. This is normal for every country,” he said.

New census questions cover household amenities like TVs, cars, computers and cell phones in what UN Population Fund census consultant Rama Rao said is an attempt to estimate “income, quality of life, standard of living, etc.”

San Sy Than said the information would help analyze poverty reduction, but would also be useful for the private sector.

“If they see that only 50 percent of people have TVs, then they can import more TVs,” he said.

San Sy Than said there were lengthy discussions on whether to include a question on nationality, but that it was decided it would not be “productive,” though he de­clined to say exactly what kinds of problems could result if the question were asked.

Two questions-one about mother tongue, which for the first time includes minority languages, and another about birth place-approximate one’s nationality, he added.

“By asking about mother tongue, we hope to identify the people who live in the country, particularly the minorities…to make a proper plan for these people,” UNFPA population and development program officer Sok Vanna said.

Rama Rao said that the main obstacle in taking a census in Cambodia is accessing hard to reach areas.

“Urban slums are enumerated after numbering the structures and there are no major problems in this regard,” he added.

San Sy Than said a high level of cooperation and a low margin of error-which he estimated to be well under 2 percent-should make the 2008 census, for which preliminary results will be released in about five months, very accurate.

The $6 million census is funded by the Japanese, German and Cam­bodian governments along with UNFPA and Japan’s aid arm JICA. The first census in Cambodia done in 1962 counted 5.7 million people, and 1998’s census was the first after three decades of conflict.

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