Saturday, 26 May 2012

Population Census DRC

Jaynet Kabila, sister of the President and Member of Parliament put Prime Minister Matata on the spot last week. She raised the question in Parliament how the government plans on implementing its social and development objectives without knowing how many people live in the country. Matata’s five-year plan outlines six objectives. Deputy Kabila (representing Kalemie in Katanga) called for a comprehensive population census to be added as a seventh objective. Her question and recommendation obviously make sense.

It is assumed that Congo’s population is 67.8 million, that there is a 2.6% growth rate and an urban population of 35%. But these figures published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) are ‘guesstimates’. The last population census in DRC dates back to 1984 so no one really knows.

What has been the impact of HIV/AIDS? The two Congo wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2003) are reported to have resulted in an estimated 5.4 million ‘excess deaths’ according to the International Rescue Committee. How accurate are these casualty counts? Again we simply do not know.

A major obstacle to free and fair elections is the absence of reliable demographic data. According to demographer Léon de Saint Moulin, Kinshasa’s population was 9.7 million in 2010 whereas the CIA World Factbook placed it at 8.4 million (2011). When it comes to voter registration and constituency forming in a hotly contested arena like that of Kinshasa, this discrepancy is not trivial. 

The census is long overdue. The UN recommends that population counts be done every 10 years. Again, according to the UNPF, DRC is the only African country to have not carried out a census in the past 20 years. In post-conflict situations, efficient development, security and infrastructure planning depend on realistic population data. The data is fundamental for private sector investors and the land use planners who need to establish where to build schools, hospitals, roads, water pumping stations, electricity grids and government builds.

Census data is by its very nature sensitive: how many people live under a roof, age, sex, level of education, in some cases biometric information, etc. A reliable census is consequently based on trust. There is no guarantee that the necessary degree of trust between government and citizen currently exists in Congo to gather such comprehensive data.

The cost of a census in DRC is estimated at $173 million.

The United Nations Population Fund jointly with other UN agencies is supporting the Government of DRC in conducting a Population and Housing Census (PHC) planned for 2014. The fund's strategy is to enable national technical and management capacities in DRC to plan and implement high quality census taking. Another UN agency, UNOPS, is building regional offices to house the census work. Results of this census could be used for development planning, good governance and poverty alleviation.

Carrying out this population census is a major priority. Without reliable data, development planning will remain arbitrary, politically biased and ad hoc.

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