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Experts from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and other organisations addressed issues and concerns related to the highly anticipated 2014 census in Myanmar at an international conference on elections and peace on Friday 13 September 2013. The 2014 census will be the first in over 30 years that a count of the Myanmar population takes place in the Southeast Asian nation. The last census took place in 1983.


The UNFPA and other development partners are providing the Myanmar government with technical, financial, administrative and resource mobilization support for the 2014 census. The development of procedures as well as ensuring a robust monitoring, evaluation and quality control system will result in an accurate, timely and reliable census. UNFPA has formed an International Technical Advisory Board (ITAB) consisting of prominent experts as an oversight technical body to advise the Myanmar government throughout the census operation. 

UNFPA will also undertake training of approximately 130,000 selected enumerators, mainly teachers on how to collect reliable data during the census. Training is expected to take place in February and March 2014.

Key challenges for the 2014 census

Experts from the UNFPA have identified some of the key challenges, which need to be addressed as part of a risk mitigating measures, before the census takes place to ensure that it remains a strong statistical exercise. Those challenges include ensuring full participation of all 330 townships and citizens within the country, including aspects relating to administrative, political, logistical and technical risks. 

“The 2014 census is going to be the first true snapshot of the population of Myanmar and it is the first time in over 30 years that a real statistical exercise is going to take place. The 2014 census also represents a good opportunity for all of Myanmar to be heard and set the tone for the future, as everyone from young to old, in every township, Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps or rural areas will be involved in the process. Everyone will be counted,” said Frederick Okwaya, UNFPA’s Chief Technical Advisor. 

Mr. Okwaya gave a presentation on the process involved for the 2014 census. The Myanmar census is scheduled to take place from 29 March to 10 April 2014. Preliminary results are expected to be released end of July 2014. It is estimated that Myanmar’s population ranges between 50 to 60 million. 

“The idea is to use the census data as a benchmark and that it will help push forward the current transition using data for development, provide social economic and demographic characteristics of people and households for the purpose of ongoing reforms, development planning and good governance," said Mr. Okwaya.

New Census Law introduced to safeguard data

Conference discussions revealed that there are misconceptions amongst the population as to how the census process works and how the results are going to be used. “The census is very important to our country, but it also scares us,” said some of the participants. 

In July 2013, the Myanmar government enacted the Population and Housing Census Law which updated an existing law from 1972. The objective of the Census Law is three fold and it is a major step in conforming to international practices. The law legitimizes the Myanmar Ministry of Immigration and Population (DoP) to undertake the census and create structures to conduct. It also ensures that all individual data collected will be treated with strict confidentiality and it clearly defines that all data released will only be used for statistical purposes and lastly, it outlines the public obligations on participation and spells out people's individual rights under the census law. 

A pilot census to test the process was carried out in 20 townships across the country in March and April 2013. The UNFPA will conduct a pilot study to test the questionnaires to be used in the census in IDP camps and rural areas in Rakhine State scheduled for the fall and the lessons learned from this exercise will be used to improve the census process. 

Over 100 participants from various international and national academic entities, including from civil society attended the conference held at the Myanmar Peace Centre. The conference was organized by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and the Myanmar Peace Centre and the theme was on Democratic Transition in Ethically Diverse Society. 

Representatives from UNFPA met on the following day with Norwegian researchers from PRIO to discuss in further details the process for the 2014 census.