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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Census shows nearly 12 million Khmers

Census shows nearly 12 million Khmers

The final results of Cambodia's first official census in more than three decades

were released on Sep 14 by the Ministry of Planning, showing that on March 3, 1998,

the Kingdom's population stood at 11,437,656.

The last time heads were counted - back in 1962 - the population was pegged at 5.7

million.

Population growth was estimated at 2.49%, giving Cambodia one of the highest rates

in the region with only neighboring Laos having a higher estimated population growth

rate.

With 19 months having elapsed since the count was taken, the Kingdom's total population

is already nearing - and should surpass by year-end - the 12,000,000 mark.

The weighty 300-page report entitled "General Population Census of Cambodia

1988" and produced by the Ministry with support from the United Nations Population

Fund, UNDP and UNESCO, should prove to be a valuable tool for government planners

and development specialists, according to senior government officials.

Speaking at the Census Report release ceremony, Acting Prime Minister Sar Kheng said

that with the Government's main agenda being "poverty alleviation and sustainable

economic progress ... the precise size of the population, its characteristics and

the future trends in population growth are necessary."

Referring to the well-known, 30-year legacy of war and civil unrest, Kheng said that

policy planners had been hampered by a lack of reliable statistical data.

"Now we have the actual population data even at the commune and village level,

thanks to the 1998 census," Kheng said.

He also noted that Cambodia had no official population policy.

"It is high time we had one," he said, adding that the UNFPA would be assisting

the government in developing a population policy for Cambodia.

While the latest report indicates that population density is low at 64 persons per

sq km compared to neighboring Thailand (117 per sq km) and Vietnam (225 per sq km),

development planners are concerned that Cambodia's high population growth rate will

strip away any benefits accrued from enhanced GDP growth, currently running at 4%

per year.

The report details much of what is generally well-known about the Kingdom, especially

in light of so many years of conflict.

Women outnumber men by 414,840 nationwide. Back in 1962 the sex ratio was almost

equal. Not surprisingly, it is in the age groups above 40 where sex ratios of as

low as 67 men per 100 women are found.

Interestingly, one of the areas of the country where men outnumber women is the three

districts Sampou Lun, Phnum Proek and Kamrieng - the area which comprises the former

Khmer Rouge "Front 250" Zone south of Malai.

With 22,529 men and 19,559 women in the three districts, it would take a Steve Hederesque

penchant for detail to determine whether or not some of the gals in Front 250 decided

long before Ieng Sary did to quit "the Movement", pack up and leave town.

While the report is listed as "Final" some of the more interesting statistics

collected - at least in the minds of Khmers - have yet to be released.

The initial questionaire asked respondents to list their native tongue and place

of birth.

Assuming people answered honestly - a subject which will be hotly debated once the

figures are out - Cambodians of all stripes will be eager to find out how many people

answered "Vietnamese" or "Born in Vietnam".

The proverbial political hot potato of "Who is a Cambodian?" and its attendant

implications for determining citizenship have yet to be dealt with head-on by the

Government.

The Census Report's findings in this vein will loom large in the overall debate.

UNFPA's N Rama Rao, possibly as an indication of the statistics' import, said they

didn't want to release the data in its "raw form".

He said the Ministry of Planning with UN support would hold a number of workshops

and that the information would be released in a series of publications over the next

few months.

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