THE 2020 national census of population and housing initially scheduled to commence on August 16, 2020, has been postponed to a later date, with all preparatory activities being on course.
With the COVID-19 pandemic escalating at a time when enumerators were supposed to go out in the field to collect census data, the postponement of the national exercise is understandable.
However, preparations for the biggest national outreach programme are on course and the Zambia Statistics Agency (ZAMSTATS) is not relenting in ensuring the exercise is conducted as soon as possible.
A census of population and housing is the largest exercise Zambia has been conducting every 10 years to ascertain how many people are in the country for purposes of developmental planning among many other reasons.
It is bigger than a general election in the sense that every person residing in Zambia and their dwellings have to be captured and counted.
Whereas in a general election, the exercise only involves registered voters from the age of 18 and above, a national census involves every citizen, including the non-voting age-group.
Census data is important because it is used for national planning and provision of social services by Government and its partners.
For this reason, ZAMSTATS is scheduled to undertake the sixth national census of population and housing at a cost of K758 million.
The census exercise, which runs for two weeks, has been postponed indefinitely, although ZAMSTATS census manager Frank Kakungu did not want to link this development to the spike in COVID-19 cases.
However, the current public health situation cannot be ruled out for the postponement of the national-wide exercise that requires enumerators to make door-to-door visits to every home to collect census data.
While a national census is a mammoth task expected to gobble K758,273,806, the fight against COVID-19 is equally a costly undertaking which also drastically reduced public revenue owing to slowed economic activities.
But Mr Kakungu attributes the postponement of the census to what he termed overrunning in preparatory activities such as mapping and listing.
Mapping and listing is a data collection exercise done throughout the country to establish where people live and their standard of living ahead of the actual census.
Mr Kakungu says the mapping and listing exercise is in its final phase in the remaining provinces of Central, Muchinga, Northern and Southern and will go on until the end of this month.
“From September to October this year, we will have a pilot census which will thereafter inform us on coming up with the actual date for the 2020 census,” he said in an interview.
Mr Kakungu said Government has been committed to funding the mapping and listing exercise and hopes this will continue until the national census is successfully done.
“It is common knowledge that we have financial constraints, but Government has been committed in funding all activities,” he said.
Zambia conducted its first census in 1969 and the population then stood at 4.1 million.
In 1980, the country conducted the second national census and the population was found to have grown to 5,661,801.
The third census in 1990 recorded 7,383,097 people, while at the dawn of the new millennium in 2000, Zambia’s population increased to 9,885, 591.
In the last national census in 2010, the country’s population grew to 13,092,666 million people.
At the end of 2019, unofficial figures suggested that the country’s population had grown to around 17.4 million people across all the 10 provinces.
Preparations for the 2020 census is already underway through a prior exercise known as mapping and listing.
For this year’s mapping and listing exercise, 45,000 Map Data Collectors (MDCs) or enumerators including their supervisors have been engaged to cover the entire country.
The MDCs, mainly school leavers, have been deliberately selected from their respective districts to enable them communicate with respondents in local languages.
Mr Kakungu says the mapping and listing exercise is the backbone of a successful census.
The exercise, which was launched on June 25, 2020 in Kabwe, was initially expected to be concluded by July 31.
This is due to the complexities the exercise has encountered, especially whenit comes to reaching difficult terrains to access people and their dwellings.
Other challenges the MDCs are facing include people resenting strangers on their premises because of gassing incidences that the country experienced recently.
In perceived strongholds for opposition political parties, it is also difficult for MDCs to collect data as they are believed to be acting to advantage the ruling party.
“People have fears of strangers coming knocking on their doors. Political influence in areas said to be strongholds for certain political parties is another challenge our MDCs face,” Mr Kakungu said in an interview.
In this year’s mapping and listing as well as the actual census exercises, each enumerator is allocated between 120 and 150 households from which to collect data.
“The data from the mapping and listing has to be processed to avoid overlapping and double counting. The data informs us on what to expect from the actual census,” the census manager said.
Mr Kakungu urged Zambians to be receptive to census enumerators because a national census has numerous benefits to the people and economy.
He explained that census data is used to evaluate the impact developmental programmes have on the population. For instance, such information could be used to establish how many people in the country need to be connected to electricity and also determine their access to social services such as health and education, among others.
And prospective investors in a country rely on census data such as the population of people in a geographical setting and their income levels among other things, before making an investment in a sector of their choice in a certain locality.
“It is not just about the head count. There are so manydemographic characteristics; age, sex, fertility levels, income and employment levels,” Mr Kakungu said.
Census data is also used to establish the educational status of the population, their skills and skill gaps in a country.
Mr Kakungu said a census is an international product which is done by almost every country because it provides comprehensive statistics about a country and its people.
“When Zambia is conducting its census, the exercise is being monitored by the international community, so it has to be credible,” he said.
In February this year, during a joint 2020 census resource mobilisation meeting between Government and the donor community, Minister of National Development Planning Alexander Chiteme affirmed the immensity of the exercise, hence engaging cooperating partners for funding.
“The census is one of the most massive and complex peace-time undertakings for any nation. The total census budget is K758,273,806,” he said while flanked by Minister of Finance Bwalya Ng’andu.
Mr Chiteme said the Department for International Development (DFID) had at the time procured 15,025 of the 45,000 tablets required for the exercise.
Dr Ng’andu equally said the census is an essential and critical exercise for purposes of planning.
“Government will provide supplementary funding if necessary to ensure the process is successful,” he said while noting that Zambia is faced with another expensive exercise, the 2021 general elections.
And United Nations Resident Coordinator Coumba Mar Gadio assured Government that cooperating partners will do their best to help Zambia mobilise resources to meet the requirements of the 2020 census.
“We recognise the efforts of the Zambian government towards economic growth despite some financial challenges. We will support the census exercise in every way possible,” she said at the joint meeting.
Mr Kakungu is optimistic of a successful census exercise because for the first time in the history of national censuses in Zambia, the private sector has come on board to support the exercise.