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Counting the World: New Documentary Explores the Census

9 April 2012
Author: UNFPA
Counting the World: New Documentary Explores the Census

Mapping an entire country is one of the key steps in undertaking a national census.

Counting is one of the most basic intellectual tasks that children learn as a way to understand their world. This simple task, taken to the national level in the form of a population and housing census, becomes one of the most complex and massive peacetime exercises a country undertakes.

A new documentary explores how this process of counting everyone plays out in five very different countries. It shows why information about growth, movements, structures, living conditions, spatial distribution and natural resources of a country's population is vital for relevant policy formulation, planning and implementation, and for monitoring and evaluation.

The film, Counting the World, explains that the population and housing census is one of the most important tools for policymakers. "Planning without data from a census is like driving in the dark for most countries, particularly developing countries,” says Jose Miguel Guzman, chief of UNFPA’s population and development branch.

The population and housing census is the primary source of information on the number and characteristics of the population and its housing conditions not only in the country as a whole but in each locality. It takes stock of the most important assets of countries: human capital.

As the film shows, conducting a census requires overcoming an array of different challenges in very different circumstances.

  • In Chad, it has meant mapping vast, sparsely populated regions in the midst of political upheaval.
  • In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, it involved overcoming barriers that restricted mobility.
  • In Bolivia, or the Plurinational State of Bolivia as it is now so aptly named, conducting the census required fine-tuning questions and translating them into multiple languages to meet the needs of dozens of ethnic groups.
  • In Indonesia, the census tracks extremely rapid growth and urbanization.
  • In Belarus, it counts the nation’s dwindling population.

Counting the World, which was produced through the generous support of the Government of Luxembourg through the Demographic Evolutions project, documents the many stages of the census process, from deciding what technologies to employ, mobilizing and training legions of enumerators, conducting public awareness campaigns, canvassing all households, collecting individual information, compiling hundreds of thousands or millions of completed questionnaires, monitoring procedures and results, and analyzing and disseminating the data.

It is available in a 21-minute version as well as a shorter 4-minute trailer
 

UNFPA'S Special Initiative on Census

Building country capacity to produce reliable data has long been an institutional priority for UNFPA, which works closely with United Nations agencies, the United Nations Statistics Division and other development partners in this area. The goal is to ensure that programme countries receive support to mobilize the funds and the technical capacity they need to complete a population census during the 2010 round, which encompasses the 10-year period from 2006-2015. A census portal has also been created to give countries access to technical guidance online.

Some of the accomplishments include:

• 229 countries or areas have scheduled at least one census in the 2010 census round.

• As of January 1 2012, of those 229 countries/areas, 180 have already conducted a census in this census round.

• An estimated 6,009,520,274 persons (87 per cent of the estimated world population) have been enumerated in the 180 censuses conducted as of 1 January 2012.

Should you require additional information on censuses for development or the content and process of the documentary please do not hesitate to email:  juran[at]unfpa.org directly.