Midweek Review
Census of Population and Housing: 2001
All set for the final count

by Amara Satharasinghe
Senior Statistician, Dept. of Census and Statistics
The final count of the 13th Census of Population and Housing of Sri Lanka is to be taken today — 17th July 2001. All people living across the country will be counted between 6 p.m. and midnight. In order to ensure that all persons of this country are counted and they are counted only once, various measures have been taken. These measures include declaring half-day holiday for all public and private sector institutions, limiting public sector transport services after 6 p.m., closing down all places of entertainment such as clubs, cinemas, bars etc., where people are likely to gather in large numbers. With all these measures it is expected that people would stay in their usual residences: places where they generally live. The Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) has appointed about 125,000 temporary enumerators to count people living in all temporary and permanent buildings/dwellings etc. and also to track down those who still found on the roads, junctions, railway stations etc., including homeless people.

Sri Lanka is a country having a reliable demographic database for a large number of years. These demographic data are collected through periodic censuses and surveys conducted by the DCS. The first census was conducted in 1871; 130 years ago. Since then censuses have been conducted in every 10 years with few exceptions. The last census was carried out in 1981. The census scheduled for 1991 could not be taken due to the disturbances in some parts of the country. Although an expensive exercise, censuses are taken once in 10 years in many countries as it is the only source that shows the true picture of the demographic and socio economic characteristics of the population and housing conditions of a country.

The Census Ordinance, which was recently amended by the Census (Amendment) Act No. 55 of 2000, provides the necessary legal provisions to conduct censuses. The staff of the DCS at district and divisional level provides the necessary technical assistance in conducting the census. Legal provisions for a census are required for assigning administrative responsibilities on public officers. These provisions also place legal obligation upon the public to give correct answers and to assure confidentiality of the individual information.

The census 2001 is carried out in 4 stages, mapping, listing, conducting the preliminary census and conducting the final census.

The estimated mid-year population of the country for the 2001 is 19.4 million. One objective of the census is to count these people within a short time period of six hours. To facilitate this exercise GN divisions, which are the smallest administrative areas of the country have been divided into several census blocks based on the number of buildings, dwellings etc. Census blocks were demarcated during the mapping stage of the census, which was conducted in 1999. The country has been demarcated into about 110,000 census blocks and an enumerator has been appointed for each and every census block for census enumerations. The mapping operation yielded a complete set of maps showing the GN division boundaries, census block boundaries and to some extent the locations of the buildings of the country. This can be used for geographic analysis using Geographic Information systems, which has now become a very common tool in the field of planning and decision-making.

All buildings/dwellings were numbered and some key information about these units was collected at the listing stage of the census. Listing stage was carried out in the early part of the year 2001. Until the next census is taken, the information collected at this stage would serve as the base, for several other censuses and surveys.

The preliminary census was carried out during 25th June - 5th July 2001. During the preliminary census some very vital information on population, housing and infirmity were collected. The information collected under population and housing includes demographic characteristics (name, relationship, sex, date of birth, marital status, citizenship, religion, ethnic group), migration patterns (district of birth, district of usual residence, duration of residence and previous residence), educational characteristics (educational qualification, literacy), economic characteristics (type of activities, occupation, industry, employment status, non economic activities), fertility (total live births, number of living children, date of birth of last live birth), housing unit characteristics (occupancy status, number of households, number of persons, materials of construction, type of structure, year of construction, usage, number of rooms) and household characteristics (availability of toilet, type of toilet, source of drinking water, type of lighting, type of cooking fuel, tenure).

Information pertaining to six types of disabilities namely seeing, hearing, speaking, disabilities in legs, other physical disabilities and mental disabilities, causes of such disabilities and age at which such disability occurred are collected under infirmity.

The last stage of the census is to be carried out tonight. A counting officer will visit your place of residence between 6 p.m. and midnight to take the final count. The counting officer’s major task at this stage is to check whether the persons who were reported to be generally living in the unit at the preliminary census are physically present and to get information of any visitors who are present at the time of enumeration. Each Counting officer will carry an identity card issued by the Director General of the Department of Census and Statistics as well as the letter of appointment issued by the Divisional Secretary of the respective area. The Department solicit the fullest co-operation of the public to make this exercise of national importance a successful one. The best way to co-orporate is to provide correct information at the shortest possible time. Keeping the gates unlocked and lights on will help the enumerators to accomplish their duties easily within the specified time period.

An outdoor enumeration will also be carried out to count the people who are on the road, bus stands and railway stations, passengers in vehicles etc. In order to avoid double counting, all persons who will be counted at these places will be issued a card to indicate that they have already been counted. Special arrangements have been made to count people staying in institutions such as hospitals, hotels etc. Socially trained counting officers will be deployed for counting people who will have gathered for special occasions like funerals. A separate schedule will be used to collect information from foreigners living in the country at the time of final census. The Sri Lanka Police Department will make arrangements to take all security measures to conduct the final census successfully.

Arrangements are already in place to release a head count soon after the final census, which is scheduled to be conducted tonight. Summary statistics including population by sex, age, ethnicity and religion are expected to be released within one week after the final census. These statistics will be published in the Department’s website www.statistics.gov.lk as well. First data release will be done based on the summaries compiled by the enumerators manually. Detailed tables and reports will be published after processing the census data.

Census data will be made available to data users: public, the private sector, government agencies, local authorities and the academic and research communities in the form suited to their needs. The processed data will be available as publications and on electronic media such as CDs. It will also be published in the department’s website.