Bosnia and Herzegovina Prepares for its First Census in over 20 Years

  • 16 January 2012

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina — In this capital city, preparations are under way for a nationwide population and housing census—the first to be held in the country in more than 20 years.

At the Agency of Statistics for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Deputy Director Slavka Popovic proudly displays the census forms that will provide vital information for the country’s future. “Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of few countries not to have a census since 1991,” says Ms. Popovic. “Since then, of course, there have been big changes, including, sadly, the conflict.”

The three-year conflict to which she refers took place in the early 1990s, accompanying the breakup of the Yugoslav Federation and leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina’s infrastructure, as well as its economy, in tatters. Roughly two million people—about half the population—were displaced as a result of the war. As the country plans for a brighter future now, pockmarked buildings throughout the capital still bear the scars of that war, which is fresh in many people's minds.

While much of the infrastructure has remained unchanged, there have been major changes in the country's population, economy and political institutions since the end of the war. The complex political structures now in place mean that Parliament has the difficult task of passing the law that will enable the census to take place late this year.

Preparing to conduct the census

As one of the few staff members who was involved in the previous 1991 census, Slavka Popovic’s contribution will be invaluable, given the scale and significance of the task.

“We estimate the census will involve about 20,000 workers and cost around 20 million euros,” says Ms. Popovic. “The task is complex and expensive.” In fact, conducting a population and housing census is a major peacetime exercise.

Preparation alone is a colossal enterprise that requires mapping the entire country, determining which technologies to use, training several thousand enumerators and conducting a major public-awareness campaign. If approved by Parliament, the Agency of Statistics plans to conduct the census later this year, sending enumerators across the country to canvass households and collect individual information. By the end, workers will have compiled millions of completed questionnaires, piecing together the much-needed demographic data for a country of a about 3.8 million people.

The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, has taken a lead in supporting the census preparation and will act as an international monitor of procedures and results as well as provide analysis and disseminate the data.

Much is at stake

The census is one of the most important tools for policymakers, providing the primary source of information on the number and characteristics of the population. It can measure fertility, mortality and spatial distribution, helping predict and plan for demographic trends. It can uncover gender disparities in employment, literacy, age of marriage and assets. Census data can contribute to poverty reduction through identification of beneficiaries and gaps in services and can gather information for key indicators of maternal health, such as maternal deaths. The Bosnian people are hopeful for what lies ahead.

For a country still recovering from conflict two decades ago, policymakers responsible for approving the census understand that much is at stake. Parliamentarian Halid Genjac is directly involved in the process to enact the census law. He knows that delaying the law could impact the census timetable and have long-term implications for the country.

“The census is important to help prepare the way for accession into the European Union,” Mr. Genjac explains. “And what is needed is positive political will from all sides.”

But without a comprehensive census, the development of Bosnia and Herzegovina will always be held back. “Of course, it negatively impacts any policies that have been developed, are being developed or are going to be developed in the future,” says Faris Hadrovic, UNFPA Assistant Representative. “Without good data, it’s very difficult to make solid policies and targeted policies.”

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, UNFPA provides technical assistance to many country efforts in census preparation and implementation, such as the design of questionnaires and related software issues, including GPS and data entry; training for enumerators and data processors; and analysis and dissemination of collected data for use in policymaking.

— Rob McBride, Ryan Dolan, Gabriela Iancu, Jasmin Panjeta

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