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Importance of population censuses flagged as experts meet at UN symposium

Importance of population censuses flagged as experts meet at UN symposium

As an international meeting on census issues continued its work at United Nations Headquarters in New York, a senior UN statistician today underscored the vital importance of collecting accurate data on a country's population.

"A census seeks to touch everybody in a country, one way or another," Hermann Habermann, the Director of the Statistics Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, told a UN news conference. He pointed out that the four-day meeting of 55 population experts was organized in order to find ways of improving the census exercise to make sure everyone is counted.

The aim of the meeting, known formally as the "Symposium on Global Review of 2000 Round of Population and Housing Censuses: Mid-Decade Assessment and Future Prospects," is to examine the issues and problems that emerged during the current census round, which began in 1995 and was due to conclude in 2004.

According to Mr. Habermann, the people represented at the Symposium are responsible for counting approximately three-fourths of the world's population. Their work forms the basis for all other data collections and provides the chance, every five or 10 years, for a country to step back and take a look at itself.

Examples of the challenges faced by census experts include nomadic groups who may need to be counted at local watering holes because they move seasonally, or homeless people and refugees who do not have permanent addresses or locations, or indigenous people who may need to be carefully informed about the purpose of the questions being asked in order to allay whatever suspicions they may have.

The use of new technologies in census operations is one of the six main issues that the symposium is focusing on. Participants are discussing how countries should select the appropriate technology, taking into consideration the high costs of equipment, access to maintenance and the lack of necessary expertise.