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Experts recommend govt use estimates to fill census holes

By Aye Nyein Win and Bill O'Toole
August 2, 2014 

International experts commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund to advise on the census have recommended the government fill in data gaps by using Ministry of Immigration and Population estimates.

Preliminary results of the count set to be released by the end of August but data from Rakhine, Kachin and Kayin states is still incomplete. This will not contain any of the most sensitive data, including population breakdowns based on ethnicity or religion.

The International Technical Advisory Board (ITAB) revealed its recommendation for filling the data gaps at a press conference following a meeting with the government and UNFPA in Nay Pyi Taw late last month.

ITAB co-chair Werner Haug said census officials made broad estimates about the population of certain areas in lead up to the census, which can be used to "map" areas left out by the current count. Under the mapping system, the country was broken into more than 80,000 zones of about 100-150 households each.

The national census, which received technical and financial support from the UNFPA, was scheduled to run from March 30 to April 10. However, problems quickly arose in Kachin State, where enumerators were not permitted to enter areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Army, and Rakhine State, where many Muslim communities were skipped altogether because they wanted to self-identify as "Rohingya" rather than "Bengali".

It remains unclear how accurate the census figures will be if ministry estimates based on existing data are used. In an interview with The Myanmar Times in May, ITAB co-chair Paul Cheung said that the most "technically sound" solution would be to do another round of enumeration in the skipped areas. However, he said conditions on the ground must be taken into account.

"Technical solutions are straight-forward, but political dynamics may not make them feasible. What is politically acceptable may also not be technically sound," he said.

Mr Haug indicated that there is still a possibility that such a recounting could take place.

"We are also advising the development of options for surveying the missed areas to collect information on the socio-economic profile of these specific groups of the population that were excluded from the enumeration," he said.

Preliminary census data, including the populations and genders of each state, will be released at the end of August.

Data on ethnicity will be tallied and analysed at a later point, officials said. Between May and October 2015, the focus will shift to all those respondents who self-described their ethnicity by selecting the "other" option, rather than one of the 135 official categories.

"We will analyse the ethnic groups thoroughly and we need to take some time to release it," Department of Population director general U Myint Kyaing said.

ITAB members said they would provided limited assistance to the government on this task as it is more political than technical.

"In analysing the ethnic group, we will help only with technical advice because defining the ethnic group is not relevant according to international standards. The Myanmar government should decide about ethnic groups according to the nature and conditions of Myanmar," said one ITAB member.

Following the meeting, UNFPA acknowleged many of the thorny issues of race and nationality that have been raised by the census. "The ITAB underlined the importance of having strategies in place for the release of sensitive data, which should take into consideration the country's social and political reform process," it said in a statement.

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