Statement by Mr Vijay Nambiar Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Myanmar

Check against delivery

Ceremony of the Release of the Census Main Results

Statement by Mr Vijay Nambiar Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Myanmar

Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar
29 May 2015

Your Excellency U Thein Sein, President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar,
Your Excellency Minister of Immigration and Population, U Khin Yi
Senior government officials present,
Members of the diplomatic corps, representatives of Donor countries,
UN colleagues, Members of the media,

Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to be here today to this ceremony to mark the release of the main results of the Nationwide Population and Household Census undertaken last year by the Government of Myanmar. This is a monumental achievement.

For the first time in three decades, and despite many challenges, Myanmar has a reliable demographic profile of its population. Such a profile will be of immense utility for both the development as well as the democratic process in the country.

Many people have helped achieve this success — officials of the MoIP, technical staff of the DoP, the UNFPA country office, international advisers and observers, the over 100,000 teachers and others who served as enumerators, and the millions of people who participated.

At the United Nations we are proud to have collaborated with the Government of Myanmar in this important project.

The support from international donors was also critical in carrying out this costly but essential exercise.

It was just three years ago here in Nay Pyi Taw that the UN Secretary-General witnessed the exchange of letters formally launching the 2014 Population and Household Census mechanism, and committing Myanmar to following international standards for conducting the census. That kicked off a massive and complex process, on a very ambitious timeline.

As the country had not undertaken a census in 30 years, capacity had to be built from the ground up with international support, in all aspects of the census, including mapping, logistics and data processing.

A wide-ranging outreach effort was also needed to raise public awareness about the census process and purpose, and ensure the support of leaders from diverse communities throughout the country.

While we celebrate the realization of this project, we must also recognize that the census was not without problems, and that the project has had to face some important challenges that called for continued outreach and dialogue.

Organizing all this in such a short time span and amid an ambitious process of democratic reform was daunting, and there were some who felt the census should have waited until after the 2015 elections.

But such a postponement would have delayed the availability of essential population data by at least three more years and would have left the country without accurate data needed to guide decisions relating to people’s well-being, economic investments, policy making, development planning, infrastructure and the improvement of health, education, sanitation, and a variety of other social services.

The collection of data, while labour intensive, was an immensely edifying experience. It was a massive national exercise of participation involving people of all social levels and ethnic backgrounds, building trust between government officials and local communities.

Admittedly, there have been some significant challenges. A wide range of organizations including ethnic armed groups were engaged in the pre-census dialogue on modalities to ensure that everyone would be counted, even in regions that never had a census before. Trust had to be built on all sides to make this happen, and this was, by and large, achieved. Such trust building will be critical to Myanmar’s all-important ongoing peace process.

The scope of the census was breathtaking. In just 12 days, more than 50 million people were enumerated, almost 98 per cent of Myanmar’s population, in thousands of localities including the country’s most remote places.

Today we know with confidence how many people live in almost every state and township, their age breakdown and other details crucial to planning. After further analysis, we will know a great deal more about people’s economic activities as well as invaluable information for promoting sustainable development through economic reform and sound investments.

While recognizing the achievements of the census, we must not overlook some of its shortcomings. In northern Rakhine, a considerable segment of the population was left out of the exercise amid ongoing communal tensions and the demand of many local people to self-identify as Rohingya, a demand that was not conceded by the authorities. This controversy prevented many people from being counted and census maps were used to estimate the number of uncounted people. Other details necessary for a complete census in this region remain un-provided. It will be necessary to conduct social surveys in the months ahead to help fill this data gap.

The official list of ethnic groups used in the census was also a source of disagreement and misgivings. The Government has wisely decided to convene a consultative process to revise the categorization to represent Myanmar’s ethnic diversity more accurately before it releases ethnic data. This upcoming negotiation, while not part of the census process, will be a critical step in Myanmar’s democratization. It will require time, patience, dedication and the broadest possible engagement of ethnic groups and communities.

Now that the census is over, an equally complex process must begin: the country must build its capacity to use the data for effective planning and decision making; these efforts should help increase accountability and good governance. The UN stands ready to support the Government in this vital endeavour.

Thank you.