The country’s first digital census is currently underway
akistan’s first-ever digital population and housing census has begun across the country. It has an estimated cost tag of around Rs 34 billion. Around 121,000 field enumerators have been deployed across the country for holding this census.
With the introduction of digital self-enumeration, the country is gearing up for a revolutionary change in the way its population data is collected and analysed. This marks a significant step forward for the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) in using technology to improve the accuracy and efficiency of data collection.
A census is a periodic population count conducted by a government to collect demographic, social and economic data. The nationwide survey is held every 10 years under the supervision of the PBS and is mandated by the constitution. However, there have been frequent delays in this exercise. The 2017 census was the first one held in almost two decades. On the other hand, the 2023 census is being attempted almost five years earlier than the standard practice.
This year the PBS will employ trained enumerators and utilise android-based smart devices to provide more accurate data and reduce the effect of human error. Self-enumeration is available for individual households. Information on collective accommodations like hostels, madrassas, and orphanages, will be collected by the enumerators manually.
PBS spokesperson Muhammad Sarwar Gondal says the census that started on March 1 will be completed by April 1. “The data will be released by April 30 after the approval of the Council of Common Interests. This will be evidence-based, authentic data collective in line with international standards that will be used for constituency delimitation in the next general elections as well as for public policy planning.
The spokesperson adds that the census teams will be monitored by geo-mapping and geo-tagging data of Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO). Administration officials of the respective province, division, district and tehsil where census teams are carrying out enumeration, will be provided access to the relevant dashboard.
Participation in the census is mandatory and providing reliable information is a civic duty. Self-enumeration, however, is voluntary. Under this process, individuals and families from across the country can add their personal and household information to the national database with a few clicks on their computers or mobile phones. The enumerators reaching households will tally this record with the one obtained during their visit.
Most states take the opportunity to gather other demographic data too, such as about languages spoken, income levels, household size, education and ethnicity.
Censuses are different from any other kind of survey in that they attempt to gather data about everyone in a population. Census data is used to show where money and resources should go in a country. Because the information gathered by a census is publicly accessible, anyone in the community can use it to help figure out what their priorities are.
While a census is supposed to be a transparent exercise, there have been objections in the past to the processes and the eventual results. The previous census results were challenged for their political impact. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan has been among the most vocal critics of the results.
MQM leaders have repeatedly said that people living in Karachi were not counted correctly in 2017. As a result, they say, in many areas of Karachi, the recorded population was less than the factual. The party has now requested the authorities to extend the date for self-enumeration. Having raised serious concerns about the 2017 results, it supports the ‘early’ 2023 census. The party contends that Karachi’s population was grossly undercounted in 2017.
The party leaders have repeatedly said that people living in Karachi were not counted correctly. As a result, they say, in many areas of Karachi, the recorded population was less than the factual. The party has now requested the authorities to extend the date for self-enumeration. Having raised serious concerns about the 2017 results, it supports the ‘early’ 2023 census. The party contends that Karachi’s population was grossly undercounted in 2017.
Some political parties in Balochistan were also unhappy with the way the census was carried out in 2017. Nationalist parties in the province had opposed a population census in the province for years. They said poorly trained officials could count the millions of Afghan immigrants living in the province and demanded that the census should not be held until the repatriation of all Afghan refugees. They also argued for a postponement in areas where segments of Baloch population had been forced to relocate as a result of militancy. Finally, they said, tribal elders should be involved in the census process.
After the census was completed in 2017, the provisional results were delayed by a month, apparently because of the ongoing political tensions. This served only to raise more questions about the credibility of the results.
According to the provisional results of Census-2017, the country’s population had surged by 57 percent from 132.22 million in 1998 to 207.77 million in 2017. At 2.4 percent, Pakistan’s population growth rate was amongst the highest in the world - much higher than the 1.89 percent estimated in recent economic surveys.
According to the last census results, a majority of the population, i.e. 52.9 per cent lives in the Punjab, though its share in overall population has declined over the two decades. The population of the Punjab now stood at 110 million – 69.6 million people lived in rural areas and 40.3 million in urban centres.
Interestingly, the Punjab had shown the lowest annual population growth rate of 2.13 percent among the provinces. The lower share in the population will result in fewer seats in the National Assembly a smaller share in federal resources allocated under the constitution.
Despite conflict and internal migration from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province’s population had increased from 17.7 million in 1998 to 30.5 million in 2017 making it 14 percent of the national population. The annual population growth rate was 2.89 percent in KP.
Balochistan, the least populated province, had seen its population surge from 6.5 million in 1998, to 12.3 million in 2017. The annual growth rate in Balochistan was recorded at 3.37 percent.
Sindh’s population, according to the census, was 47.8 million. And 52 percent or 24.9 million of people in the Sindh province now lived in urban centers and 48 percent or 22.9 million in rural areas. Sindh’s annual growth rate was recorded at 2.41 percent.
The data on the urbanisation of Sindh was intriguing. It had been widely believed that the Punjab was the most urban province of Pakistan. However, Sindh now appeared to have taken the lead as per the new census data. A reason for this could be the waves of migrants from KP to Karachi due to the Taliban insurgency.
The population of Islamabad, the federal capital, had more than doubled during the past two decades. The current population of Islamabad, according to the census of 2017, stands at more than 2 million, with over 1 million living in rural areas of the capital, while 900,000 people were living in urban localities.
Census authorities counted Islamabad’s growing suburban population as rural population, which according to some critics is misleading.
Collection of census data is not a simple task. It requires training the enumerators. Key factors that affect data collection mechanism include literacy, geographical area, weather conditions, rural and urban spread, economic conditions and the law and order situation. The demographic characteristics documented during the exercise include age, gender, religion, ethnicity, nationality, disability, migration and literacy. Housing details obtained during the process include the number of rooms, electricity, water, gas, toilet, construction material, gender of household owner etc.
Against this backdrop, it is imperative that the census is conducted in a transparent manner so that the results are acceptable and useful.
The author is a staffreporter. He can be reached at shahzada.irfangmail.com