YANGON — The Myanmar Government with support from UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, undertook a pilot census exercise from 30 March to 10 April to prepare for a nationwide census in 2014, the country's first in 30 years.
One hundred schoolteachers trained to be enumerators visited thousands of homes and questioned residents in selected villages in 20 townships across the country representing a cross-section of Myanmar's diverse geographic and ethnic mix. Officials from the Ministry of Immigration and Population closely monitored the process to test procedures for data collection and public involvement.
Myanmar's last census was conducted in 1983, and it therefore lacks reliable data on how many people it has, where they live, their ages or their livelihoods—knowledge crucial to building the economic and social infrastructure as the country seeks to establish peace and democracy.
To close the information gap, the Government plans to conduct a nationwide population and housing census, starting on 30 March 2014. It will be a massive undertaking, requiring nearly 100,000 enumerators to visit all households across the country in just 12 days.
Prior to the pilot, teachers recruited as enumerators and supervisors were each given five days of training in enumeration techniques, and communities were informed about the process. Exactly one year ahead of the actual census, enumerators fanned out across the 20 selected villages, using carefully prepared housing maps.
In each home, they asked heads of households 41 questions—on family members' sex and ages, education, occupations, religion, ethnicity, disabilities, births and deaths; as well as on housing, lighting and water sources, and more.
At the end of each day's counting, enumerators reviewed their experience, checked their questionnaires and reported to officials.
UNFPA deployed a team of independent observers to help the Government learn as much as it can from the pilot. The observers, trained in survey techniques, sat in on some of the census interviews. They watched to see whether questions were asked correctly and answers recorded accurately. They spoke with the families afterwards to see how well they understood the questions, and asked enumerators about challenges they faced.
Observers also interviewed political party members, community leaders and others with influence in the townships visited, to learn their views on the census and on how to encourage full public participation. UNFPA will report their findings to the Department of Population, Ministry of Immigration and Population, to help it improve the enumeration and community outreach.
In an agreement with the United Nations signed a year ago, the Government committed to conduct the 2014 census in accordance with international standards. UNFPA is providing technical assistance in mapping households, training enumerators, setting up data processing systems, and analysing and disseminating the results. The Fund is also helping to mobilize financial support from international donors.