Academic journal article Geography

The Completion of the Millennium Round of Commonwealth Censuses

Academic journal article Geography

The Completion of the Millennium Round of Commonwealth Censuses

Article excerpt

The millennium round of Commonwealth censuses, begun in 1996, has been completed with the belated census in Nigeria in March 2006. These enumerations constitute major administrative tasks for the governments concerned, spread over many years of planning, execution and now analysis and publication. Although there was some regional co-operation between states, notably in the Caribbean and the Pacific, each census was undertaken separately, eliciting a suite of information unique to that country In all, some 54 member states (then including Zimbabwe) and 16 dependencies were involved, ranging in population from 1.0 billion (India) to 1500 (Tokelau). The information collected will provide geographers and many others with a wealth of information about the population of the Commonwealth at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The millennium round came 200 years after the first census of the United Kingdom in 1801 and 100 years after the only published Empire-wide census conducted in 1901. It is evident that any idea of synchronised and standardised census-taking within the Commonwealth was no longer in place by 2001. Nevertheless, the United Nations endorsed a millennium round of enumerations in the interests of global development. Nearly half (33) the censuses were held in 2001, but the remainder were spread over a ten-year period. Although most states take regular decennial enumerations, some, notably Canada and New Zealand, take them at intervals of five years. Others are more erratic, largely as a result of conflicts. Sri Lanka was unable to conduct one in 1991, so there was a 20-year gap in census-taking. Similarly, Sierra Leone was unable to take one between 1985 and 2004. Nigeria, as a result of protracted political instability, had to postpone its census from 2001 to 2006, resulting in a 15-year inter-census interval. Even where regularity in census-taking is maintained, local conflicts, such as those in Jammu and Kashmir, and northern Sri Lanka, may preclude complete enumerations.

In terms of basic numbers, each census is usually examined to see whether a particular country, town or district has increased in population and how it compares with its neighbours. As Table 1 shows, there are four Commonwealth countries with over 100 million inhabitants, and growth rates vary considerably There is a degree of divergence in demographic trends, as the rate of growth has slowed in most countries, notably in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, but remained high in others, notably Nigeria and Uganda. Declining growth rates are notable in Zimbabwe, as a result of out-migration due to economic crisis, and in Sierra Leone, as a result of civil war. In Singapore, the non-resident population grew by an average of 9.3 96 per annum in the 1990s, with the result that over a quarter of the population were non-nationals by 2000. Other countries, such as the Turks and Caicos Islands, are the recipients of refugees. Here, the population nearly doubled between censuses, and half the population is now non-national, being predominantly Haitian. In other cases, accelerated growth maybe internally generated, as in the case of Uganda, confirming its success in overcoming the effects of the AIDS pandemic. Then there is the special case of Montserrat, where a much reduced population is confined to the 'safe zone', comprising under half the area of the island, following the volcanic eruptions of 1995-7, although the island had suffered a small decline in the previous decade through out-migration.

Questionnaires

Modern censuses involve more than a simple head count and vary substantially in scope. Questionnaires may have one page to cover an entire household, or be multi-page booklets of 1640 pages, seeking detailed information on a wide variety of topics and offering a set of alternative answers to assist respondents when filling in the form and also to aid later computerisation of the results. In addition to the basic demand for each individual's name, age, sex and place of birth, there is a range of questions relating to topics such as: identity, education, occupation and income, fertility, migration, and disability. …

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