Population census enters the digital age in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan recently completed its third population and housing census since independence in 1991. Some 24,000 enumerators, like the one above (left) in Suusamyr Valley, Chuy region, were recruited to survey the population of almost 7 million. @UNFPA Kyrgyzstan/Kanat Kubatbekov
  • 20 May 2022

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – For ten days in the spring, 24,000 enumerators spread out across this Central Asian country of 7 million to finally conduct the national population and housing census that had been postponed for two years because of COVID-19. 

It was the third census the country has undertaken since declaring its independence in 1991 and the first conducted electronically. 

“There was no need to carry paper and pens,” said Kanat Sydykov, a 20-year-old student at Kyrgyz State University and census taker in Kyrgyzstan. “It is a census literally conducted on the tips of the enumerators’ fingers.”

Enumerators, who each had to collect data from 400 people, did so using a mobile app developed by the World Bank.

“Previous censuses were paper-based,” explained Dinara Isakova, a specialist at the Bishkek Statistics Administration of the National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic. “This process took more time, as each paper questionnaire needed to be encoded, digitized and only then the results could be retrieved.” 

An interviewer talks to a resident.
Local enumerator Aigul Zheenbekova interviews a resident in the remote village of Ak-Ulak in the mountains of Min-Kush, Naryn region. The census was originally planned to take place in 2020 but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. @UNFPA Kyrgyzstan/Kanat Kubatbekov

Pivotal population data

Data on the social and economic situation, education level of citizens, marriage and family structures and the ethnolinguistic composition of the population, to be published in 2023, was automatically transferred from the app to a database at the National Statistical Committee, which was assisted by UNFPA with methodological support, training, monitoring and with the development of the census questionnaire.  

“Many sociodemographic issues are tackled with the help of the census data,” added Ms. Isakova. “One example is that we can identify where a new kindergarten or a new hospital needs to be built and allocate the governmental budget accordingly.”

People living in remote areas had to wait a little longer – until after snow blocking roads melted – to be surveyed. Because census data, which is collected every ten years or so, is vital to policymaking, development planning and social welfare programming, among other issues that contribute to functioning societies, every person must be counted. Absent such information, governments cannot address the needs of people they don’t know exist. Since the last census, the government has raised awareness with local authorities so that this time around, they actively supported census personnel facing any reluctance from the community.

“The results of the population and housing census are pivotal for evidenced-based decisions and policies," said Azamat Baialinov, head of the UNFPA country office in Kyrgyzstan. “It provides an instant portrait of society and can be used for the development of forecasts and programmes as well.”

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