Editorial : Housing census - Wednesday 6th April 2011

AFTER a delay of three years, the first phase of a national census finally kicked off on Tuesday with the initiation of the house-listing operation.Pakistan has been quite tardy when it comes to conducting censuses. While the previous enumeration exercise — which is supposed to be a decennial event — took place in 1998, there was a 17-year gap between the last census and the one before it. So perhaps we are making progress. In the first phase, to be completed by April 19, each household will be counted along with the family’s head while a population census is to follow in August or September. Undoubtedly, conducting a census is a massive logistical operation requiring sound planning. And while governments in Pakistan are not known for the soundness of their planning, what complicates matters further in 2011 is the fact that hundreds of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed in last year’s floods while a large number of people were displaced. Many people are still living in temporary shelters and enumerators will have to consider this while recording data to reflect an accurate picture for future planning.
Nevertheless, it is good that the government has gone ahead with the house count and has not delayed the exercise further — although the census has not been free of hiccups. Some confusion reigned in Sindh as until Tuesday evening a census commissioner for the province had not been notified. Questions have also been raised about the enumerators’ capabilities in Punjab, specifically with regard to their training. It has also been asked if it would be possible for the enumerators to cover, on average, over 700 houses each in the period until April 19. There is no need to rush the exercise as inaccurate data is as bad as no data. This time around the house-counting exercise will be different from the past as apart from displacement caused by the floods, militancy has also rendered many homeless. The enumerators are enlisting the help of security forces in at least three tribal agencies. In fact, the civil authorities should seek the security forces’ assistance wherever access is an issue.
It is key that the house count is completely transparent and as error-free as possible as it will provide a baseline for the population census. Once data from both exercises is analysed it will help planners tackle Pakistan’s massive housing problem: World Bank figures from last year suggest that the housing shortage in the country is over 7.5 million units. The government should also launch an awareness campaign to encourage people to cooperate with enumerators as planning, service delivery, the sharing of resources and legislative representation all depend on accurate population figures.

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/06/housing-census.html

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