Monday, 4 July, 2022
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Population and Housing Census 2022: The Data We Need for Development

Population and Housing Census 2022: The Data We Need for Development

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The sixth Population and Housing Census 2022 was launched at zero hours on 15 June 2022 through the counting of floating people in different parts of the country. The census is the official enumeration of the entire population and households of a country. It is the key source of accurate and reliable data on the demographic, and socio-economic characteristics of a society. Thus, a timely and properly conducted census is of paramount importance in our national life.

The population census provides an integrated database over a period by capturing the continuously changing characteristics of the society as a whole. It captures data such as information on the lowest administrative or geographical level, related rates, and indicators such as population growth rates, age structure, age and gender composition, educational features, workforce, and social and economic structure. For evidence-based public policy formulation, decision-making, and monitoring of the progress of any development undertakings, these data are essential.

This time, data users had been ardently awaiting the census but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the process. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) is conducting gigantic work like the population census using digital technology. The government has taken such a pragmatic decision for the sake of accurate and reliable data about our national lives. This is an innovative undertaking by the government at a right time. Appropriate use and application of digital technology can prevent the possibility of exclusion and duplication of households and ensure the transparency and reliability of data. For data users, this is most desirable.

The census is inclusive by nature and aligned with the overarching development goals. Accurate and timely data is vital to the government and policymakers for the formulation of evidence-based policy making, planning, decision-making, designing deliverable services, selecting constituencies for local and national elections, framing future projections of human and economic resources, ensuring a balanced distribution of national resources, and studying social phenomena.

Data that will be produced by the present census will be the source of all baseline data of the country up to the next census and will set the benchmark for other data collection systems. Population census is not a frequent event, so appropriate enumeration of every household and population needs to be ensured.

The present census will cover the demographic and socio-economic data of residents, including the number of households, ownership of property, the main source of drinking water, access to toilets, utilities, the main source of fuel for cooking, occupations, inward remittance, age of household members, gender, marital status, religion, education, training, mobile phone and internet usage, bank/mobile banking accounts, nationality, ethnicity, and various district-wide information. In addition, this census will cover 10 SDGs among 17. This is a game-changer because the country is facing challenges of standard, well-defined, and disaggregated data when it comes to monitoring the attainment of SDGs.

Since the last census in 2011, there have been major socio-economic changes and advancements in our national lives. We have attained the Millennium Development Goals successfully, our GDP growth rate hit 7.88 percent right before the COVID-19 pandemic, we are enjoying a demographic dividend, and are approaching middle-income status by 2026 and attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Before even recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war is having a toll on our country.

In such a time, our expectation from the ‘Digital Census’ is not only to obtain data on population and household characteristics but rather how it can establish the linkages between two different periods, which could lead our journey towards 2041 as citizens of a developed nation.

The concerned authorities have taken adequate steps for conducting a successful census by taking into account past experiences and demands of the present and adopting an integrated approach of digital devices and Geo-Information Systems; engaging personnel and enumerators who are knowledgeable and trained in IT; involving key actors at the central and local level; engaging local administration; including the third gender for mainstreaming; conducting mass communication campaigns across the country, and finally making the firm commitment to conduct a reliable and commendable census. All are very praiseworthy.

We have also been assured that after the census week if anyone is left out by chance from the count, they can get in touch and will be added to the database. The census authority should think about who might not be able to communicate, and what steps to be taken for the sake of under-enumeration. Under-enumeration or undercounting results in unobserved residents who will be deprived of their fair share and resources to meet their basic needs. We have to come every time to the baseline information collected by the census for taking development initiatives; for administrative and legal purposes; and for work in the public, private, business, and academic spheres. In addition, today’s census will ensure the quality of future censuses.

We are in the midst of monsoon season. Many areas are now flooded and many more will be so. We have to be careful to ensure that those who are socially excluded and outside of the net of social benefits and protection, whose very needs and existence are unrecognized, do not go uncounted. There are still many more who cannot be identified as floating or homeless populations. They must be taken care of if we are to ensure that no one is left behind.

With strong efforts to ensure maximum coverage, accuracy of the data and efficient enumeration, the count for the 2022 census is making swift progress. The results will hopefully paint a clear and credible picture of development in Bangladesh and offer a finer look at the areas that need most support and attention from the government. While there remain the issues of the level of skill of personnel collecting the information and the floods making access more difficult, this census process is a novelty and troubleshooting from the authorities is firmly in practice. In addition, with the announcement that the population census will take place every five years instead of ten from next time, we hope that the decision will be taken to ensure that the intervals for surveying for the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) will be consistent now given the advancement of IT and reduced to three years instead of five. Certainly there will be crucial lessons learned from the experience that will apply to all national data collection at scale for better outcomes moving forward.

The writer is Senior Research Fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management (BIGM) and former

Director General of the Bangladesh

Bureau of Statistics (BBS)