Burma’s Population Likely Overestimated: Census Official

By Yen Saning 13 August 2014

RANGOON — Burma’s total population is likely to be less than the widely accepted estimate of 60 million people, according to an official from the country’s Central Census Commission.

The preliminary results of the first census conducted in Burma in more than three decades are due to be announced at a press conference by the end of this month, said Myint Kyaing, secretary of the Central Census Commission.

“There is a situation where the population will be less, based on the [data gathered in] enumeration areas,” Myint Kyaing told The Irrawaddy.

One reason for the overestimate could be the lack of a credible population tally in more than 30 years, he admitted. “Such cases can happen in any country where we have a population calculation based on estimation.”

The United Nations recommends that a census be undertaken every 10 years in order to have an accurate grasp on a national headcount.

“As it approaches 30 years, the estimated population can be a little changed,” said Myint Kyaing, who also serves as director general of the Department of Immigration and Population.

A spokesperson for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which helped administer the census, declined to comment on whether Burma’s census results would confirm Myint Kyaing’s assertion, saying via email only that “The Provisional Results will include the population count.”

“The Government will announce a date for the release of the Provisional Results of the census soon,” the spokesperson continued.

Estimates on Burma’s population vary widely. Myint Kyaing said his Department of Immigration and Population has estimated it to be 60 million people, as do most media reports on Burma. The CIA World Fact Book puts the figure at about 55.7 million as of July 2014, while others estimate the headcount to be as high as 70 million.

This year’s census was marred by controversy after provisions on its questionnaire asked respondents to identify their ethnicity and religion, exposing deep-seated tensions in the multi-ethnic nation. Many Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State were not counted——the number excluded unknown, but likely to be in the hundreds of thousands—because they refused to self-identify by the government’s preferred term for the group, “Bengali.”

Separately in northern Kachin State, areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) were not counted after the government failed to secure an agreement with the ethnic rebel group to allow census enumerators access.

“Populations/Areas that are uncounted during a census are typically announced when the total population is announced,” the UNFPA said.

Burma last census was conducted more than 30 years ago, in 1983. The 12-day nationwide census was conducted this year beginning on March 30.

Preliminary findings from a manual count of the census forms will be released in August and will include at least population and gender data down to the divisional and township levels.