Visit to the Population and Migration Ministry. Director U Nyi Nyi, Programme Manager Malin Synneborn Lundberg from Sida, Stockholm, Director General U Myint Kyaing, Country Coordinator for Myanmar Tomas Lundström and Deputy Director Khaing Khaing Soe.
Photo: Fredrick Okwayo
The first population census in Myanmar in 30 years
After 60 years of military rule , Myanmar has during the last two years made efforts to reform the politics and move towards democracy. The country has become at focus of the world’s attention with frequent high level visits, including the American President Barack Obama as well as Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.
As late as in the 1950’s Myanmar was one of the richest countries in the region with a highly educated population. However, the mismanagement of the country led to a negative downward spiral and Myanmar is today on the bottom of most development indexes, such as indicators for poverty, democracy and human rights. As with most things in Myanmar, the analytical base and data collection have been neglected for decades. Most of the basic data that is required for decision making and in order to understand the different parameters of the Burmese society is lacking. The population size is unknown and at present the estimated population varies between 55 and 70 million people depending on with whom you talk.
Sweden is now one of 10 donors interested in supporting the first census since 1983, which is to be held in March 2014. The funds will not go directly to the government but will be channeled through UNFPA, which has a broad experience from undertaking censuses in many places in the world. The challenges are many, but despite this, the enthusiasm is high at both the Ministry of Migration and Population - where 200 newly recruited staff members are compiling and refining maps of all villages and households in Myanmar - and at UNFPA’s Myanmar office.
Tomas Lundström, Myanmar Country director and Malin Synneborn Lundberg from Sida HQ went to the capital Nay Pyi Taw to assess the forthcoming Swedish support to the census.
“The process is going on with high intensity. Already at this stage we have learned that there are 11 million households in Myanmar, Malin Synneborn Lundberg says.”
The technology used for the census undertaking poses minimal risks. One of the senior staff members of the Ministry of Population gladly said:
“One of the few positive sides of being a highly underdeveloped society is that all systems have been tested before and we now get the best and most tested IT-equipment”.
However, limited access to some of the more remote areas and issues of ethnicity and citizenship, with over 135 ethnic groups and at least 19 major languages, pose difficulties and challenges. In addition, there are areas that are non-government controlled and with armed conflicts. These circumstances combined with a high level of mistrust of government from the people show the complexity and risks involved in this kind of exercise. This is the reality under which the enumerators (local teachers) will work during the week when the census counting will be performed - the last days of March and first days of April next year. The enumerators will interview around 15 households each and afterwards scan and enter the data into the IT-system – a process that will take 2-3 months after the actual census week. The final figure on Myanmar’s total population is to be ready in August, 2014.
Most donors and other interested parties in Myanmar are convinced that there is no alternative to the census – we need to know the basic data such as population size, family situation and other general demographic data. There is no doubt that the census will be highly useful and will provide necessary base-line data and enable voter registration for the coming general elections in 2015. The mapping made for the census will also serve as a basis for future surveys on living conditions.
An immediate challenge is to ensure that the process is going in the right direction and not least to make sure that the findings are respected on a political level and disseminated in a correct and timely manner.