A woman with a grey head-scarf holding up and reading a booklet.

A woman looking through the report from the population estimation survey published in May 2015. Somalia is planning to carry out an official census in 2016.

Photo: Sida

Sida-sponsored survey shows new population patterns

Published: 8 June 2015 Updated: 8 June 2015

For the first time since the 1970s Somalia now has reliable population statistics to help government authorities to target populations for social services and infrastructure. The recently published survey shows that the population of Somalia is very young and larger than previously estimated.

Somalia finally has a formally estimated population of 12.3 million following the Population Estimation Survey for Somalia (PESS) that was conducted between October 2013 and March 2014 and officially launched in May 2015. The first extensive household sample survey to be carried out in decades, it found that the Somali population is at least one million larger than previous UN estimates.

The Sida-sponsored survey collected information from 250,000 households in urban, rural, nomadic settings and camps for the internally displaced people (IDPs). It provides populations estimates by geographic and administrative divisions and classifies the population by characteristics such as age, sex, IDPs, mobility status, electoral population, household size, fertility and mortality rates, vulnerable groups, access to basic services, education and employment.

Young population calls for investments in education

The PESS establishes that nearly three-quarters of the population is under 30 years, and around 46 percent of the population is below the age of 15 years. These numbers further highlight the urgency to invest in young people by ensuring education and employment opportunities.

Another striking finding is the fact that about half of the total female population comprises women of childbearing age (15-49 years). This large proportion of mothers and potential mothers requires investments in maternal health care and health education in order to minimise the risks of mothers losing their lives during pregnancy or while delivering babies.  This is especially important in Somalia where one out of every twelve women dies due to pregnancy related causes.

The survey also shows that 42 percent of the population live in urban areas, 23 percent in rural areas and 9 percent in internally displaced camps, while 26 percent of the population is nomadic.

The first population survey in decades

Due to internal conflict and war, the last holistic attempts to collect population data in Somalia was during the 1975 and 1985/1986 censuses. Several challenges beset the two attempts with scanty data being released from the first census and results from the second census remaining unpublished. The lack of reliable statistics has forced the government and its partners to use rough estimates and has made it difficult to ensure that development and humanitarian efforts target the communities that need them the most.

The new population data can be used in a number of ways, for example by helping the government and its partners to distribute resources to the different districts according to the size and characteristics of the population, such as he number of children or IDPs. It can also be used to update and design realistic development plans, measure economic progress and make comparisons between regions and between men and women.

The PESS process also contributed to improved capacity of Somali authorities and institutions in using data to monitor and evaluate policies and programmes.

Statistics to facilitate the work of the government

The Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia, Omar Arteh, said at the launching ceremony that the information will enable the authorities to better design and target development programmes.

“In deciding to hold a Population Estimation Survey (PESS) 2013-2014, two years before the proposed 2016 census, we were acting upon our critical need to obtain basic information, so that our plans should be based on the real situation. We are now paving way for the proposed 2016 census, which is a mammoth undertaking in itself in a country like Somalia”, Arteh said.

The survey was funded by Sweden, the UK, the US, the African Development Bank, Norway, Denmark, the EU, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the African Union and the UN. The survey was led by UNFPA.

Page owner: The Communication Department

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