• English

UNECE Census Week

Geneva, 22-26 November 2004
Welcoming remarks of the UNECE Executive Secretary

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to be here this morning to welcome you to what we can call the UNECE one-week marathon on census. As you know we are starting today with a seminar on new methods for conducting censuses and will continue from Tuesday to Thursday with the Work session on population censuses and Friday with the Work Session on Housing censuses.

Allow me here to emphasize the role of the census in a national statistical system and the importance of continuing to develop regional UNECE recommendations on census content and methodology. The census is one of the pillars of a national statistical system and at the same time it is the most cumbersome and most expensive operation. For countries that do not regularly rely on local administrative sources, the census is the only source for local area statistics. Many programmes are implemented at local level and these data are essential for policy implementation and monitoring. The population counting provided by the census is in many countries the only legal number used to allocate financial resources and parliamentary seats. For example the new European Union Constitution regulates the allocation of parliamentary seats according to the population size of its member countries. The census population counting (and the inter-censual population estimates often based on the decennial counting) is also the basis for many of the key national indicators such as GDP per capita, educational enrolment ratios, or government expenditures per capita. The quality of the data provided for these indicators depends not only on the numerator such as GDP, enrolment, government expenditures, but also on the denominator, total population. It is the experience of one country in our region that the gross enrolment ratio in primary schools increased in one year from 87% to 96% only because a census was carried out and the population figure could be rectified.

It is clear that the development of common standards to define total national populations in the near future is needed. Our region has always seen the emergence of new methods to conduct censuses and in preparation of the 2010 census new approaches are still emerging. A few decades ago some countries moved away from the so-called “traditional census” towards a register-based approach. Increasingly countries are trying to use registers also in combination with other sources (such as surveys) to decrease costs and improve efficiency. For countries that cannot yet rely on administrative registers, other methodologies are emerging for the next round of censuses to:

  • provide data on a more continuous basis,

  • improve the accuracy of the data,

  • improve the timeliness in the releasing of the results, and

  • reduce costs or have a more homogeneous disbursement of funds during the 10-year cycle.

The seminar that we are having today attempts to look at these new methods in order to extend to the whole region the lessons learnt and the research already undertaken by pioneer countries. I hope this will also be an opportunity to discuss how the traditional idea of census taking is evolving, and to better understand how to translate in our region the four internationally recognized fundamental principles of a census: individual enumeration, universality within a defined territory, simultaneity, and defined periodicity.

The other four days of the census marathon are intended to discuss how to update the UNECE recommendations for the 2010 round of censuses for the UNECE region. In this we are pleased to work very closely with Eurostat and the Steering Group appointed by the Conference of European Statisticians. Why do we believe it is relevant to develop census recommendations for the UNECE region? Within the context of globalisation, international comparability of statistics is becoming more important than ever. Countries need to compare their data with other countries in order to better understand their own statistics, but the comparisons are more meaningful if done in a similar context. Regional UNECE recommendations can bridge the work carried out at world level into the more specific needs of the region where countries are less diverse than at global level. We also hope that the new recommendations can guide those countries in the region which still have limited national census experience, or those countries where the experience dates back to a period when they were organised in a fundamentally different way from today. I do not know what the objectives were of the people who launched the first UNECE regional census recommendations for the 1960 round. But I know that the recommendations released in the past have been widely used by the countries in our region and today, when the UNECE recommendations celebrate their 50th birthday, there is still need for a coherent set of guidelines to develop census statistics that are comparable at UNECE level. We look forward to working together with our colleagues in UNSD in New York to make sure that our recommendations are in line with international standards, but we will also work hard together with Eurostat to make sure that the UNECE recommendations are adjusted to the needs of our region.

I am very pleased to see that almost all countries of the UNECE region are represented here and that countries from outside the region have also joined us here today. This shows the importance that governments and national statistical offices place in the conducting of national population and housing censuses. But we also need to thank our partners, Eurostat and UNFPA, for their understanding of the importance of the topic and for giving the opportunity to many countries to participate. We look forward to continuing our partnership with these two organizations to strengthen the capacities of the UNECE countries to successfully conduct their 2010 round of censuses. I would also like to thank the countries and experts that agreed today to openly share their experience and their plans for the forthcoming census round. This information sharing will be extremely beneficial to the countries in the region that are in a continuous process of re-thinking and re-tuning the current methods for conducting a census. Last but not least, I would like to thank the members of the Steering Group on population and housing censuses and related task forces. They have been very active in guiding the work so far achieved toward the development of the new UNECE recommendations. We know they are very busy implementing their national census programmes and we appreciate their efforts to dedicate their time and expertise to increase the cooperation among the countries in the region and to help develop common definitions and standards in the region.

I wish all the participants a stimulating week and a productive discussion. I look forward to hearing about the progress that will be made toward the development of the recommendations for the 2010 round of censuses in our region.