The Cambodia population census: leaving no one behind

A census collector travels by oxcart en route to the remote village of Koh Nhiek in Mondulkiri province for the 1998 census. AFP
A census collector travels by oxcart en route to the remote village of Koh Nhiek in Mondulkiri province for the 1998 census. AFP

The Cambodia population census: leaving no one behind

Cambodia will be conducting its third comprehensive and inclusive population census in March 2018. For any country, the population census is the first source of information that provides facts about the size of the population, the different age groups, the geographic distribution, the ethnical minorities and the social and economic characteristics of the people.

The acquired population data form a basis of evidence that is available to government, development partners, public and private sectors for purposes of decision-making, planning and measuring progress in a variety of development areas related to the lives of the people of Cambodia.

The 2018 Cambodia population census will provide the largest data collection ever to be used in all aspects of the development planning in Cambodia. The first census was conducted in 1998 after a major civil strife and instability in the country that resulted in a major change in the population of Cambodia.

At that time we needed to know exactly how many people still remained in the country, because we could no longer rely on guessed population projections. The previous 2008 Cambodian population census formed the basis for today’s national planning frameworks, the design of the socioeconomic surveys, the demographic and health household studies and the recent agricultural census.

Cambodia ranked in the top five countries for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and was able to show verifiable progress because of the availability of reliable data on the impact of development programs on the people. In view of the national commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, the time is right to update our national database on the population of Cambodia.

A population census is more than just counting people. For instance, through a population census, a country can also gather more information about people’s housing conditions, their demographic changes, their social status and characteristics, their migration in the country or across the borders, the mortality at different ages, the ageing, the fertility, the number of children per household, etc.

The 2018 population census will build a valuable database for the coming decade, a database that leaves no one behind. The design and analysis will be inclusive, and provide more in-depth and dependable data on disability, migration, environment, ethnic minorities and land ownership than has ever been done before in the country. In addition, we will have more reliable data on the gender distribution, the important role of women at village level, and the role women play in heading the household and managing the families.

The national resource allocation and the decentralisation require exact figures on the number of people and where they are living, planners also require population data for measuring the equity in the distribution of those resources. The data are collected every 10 years and play a particularly important role in national planning, public administration, national budgeting and economic forecasts.

Population data are part of the design of electoral constituencies and are therefore essential in an overall democratisation process. Overall, the effectiveness of social protection mechanisms, equal access to education, the health equity funds, the pro-poor ID, the set-up of the National Social Security Fund, for example, can only be efficiently funded if we have reliable demographic data.

The actual census that is planned for March 2018 requires a number of preliminary steps to be completed. We are still in the preparatory phase and will soon start to test the questionnaires at the field level. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) will provide the technical assistance to the Ministry of Planning throughout the planning, the implementation and further analysis of the data. Today’s handover of a vehicle to the Ministry of Planning marks the start of the field testing of the questionnaires.

A census is the largest and most elaborate data collection activity that a government can undertake. The total budget required to realise the census is $11.8 million. Without compromising on the quality of the data, costs have been reduced through a well-designed census questionnaire and the introduction of newer technologies in the data processing.

The recruitment of enumerators and census supervisors will be done using to a great extend the staff who were engaged in the 2008 population census. This brings the average cost to less than a dollar per person. In comparison, the cost of the Myanmar census was over $5 per person and in Canada and the US more than $22 per person.

What is very promising is that the Cambodian government is committed to cover 25 per cent of the total cost from the national budget. While over the past months there has been substantial progress in the technical preparation, we still require a larger partnership to realise the 2018 population census in Cambodia.

Dr Derveeuw Marc GL is the Cambodian representative for the United Nations Populations Fund.

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