October 12, 2021 | 14:24 GMT+7

Key data needed for comprehensive analysis

Ms. Naomi Kitahara, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative in Vietnam, discusses the importance of a population and housing census.

Ms. Naomi Kitahara, UNFPA Representative in Vietnam
Ms. Naomi Kitahara, UNFPA Representative in Vietnam

What role does the Population and Housing Census play?

Some 107 out of the 232 indicators in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) require that population data be calculated, with the census providing population denominators for many of the indicators. At least 19 SDG indicators can be fully calculated from census data alone. Because the census covers every individual in the country, census data allows for a more granular disaggregation of indicators, thereby facilitating a more comprehensive analysis of inequalities for locating those left behind, i.e., Leaving No One Behind (LNOB) analysis.

A Population and Housing Census is a key pillar in national statistical systems, as it is the basis of sampling frames for national surveys. Data are also used to assess the completeness of civil registration systems and the validation of administrative data. A census also provides base data for population projections, including sub-national projections, which are the basis for Common Operational Datasets on Population Statistics - a key resource in humanitarian settings.

Most countries around the world, including Vietnam, have conducted a Population and Housing Census and it is an international norm.

How has the global population and housing census been conducted so far?

The 2010 round of the population and housing censuses (censuses conducted between 2005 and 2014) had the largest global coverage to date.

Regarding the 2020 round of population and housing censuses (censuses conducted between 2015 and 2024), the 2020 World Population and Housing Census Programme was approved by the United Nations Statistical Commission at its 46th session and adopted by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in its resolution E/RES/2015/10. There exist three different types of a Population and Housing Census conducted by countries: full census, register-based census, and combined census.

What are your recommendations for the Vietnam Population and Housing Census in the next round?

Given Vietnam’s level of various register systems, as well as the population size and rapidly evolving socio-economic growth characteristics of the country, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Vietnam thinks it prudent not to replace a census with a register, and such an attempt is still premature for Vietnam. We firmly advise Vietnam to continue with a census. However, it may wish to elaborate on some options for different types of censuses, full census, register-based census, and combined census, examining experience and lessons learned from other countries. UNFPA will be able to facilitate this process.

In the context of Industry 4.0 in Vietnam, digital transformation and innovation for data technologies and communication platforms can be fully explored to speed up the data generation process and minimize human error.

Vietnam has developed a national population database managed by the Ministry of Public Security, as well as sectoral databases and other administrative data sources. We highly appreciate efforts to establish and strengthen a national population database. However, it is our opinion that such a database is not yet sufficient or fully matured to replace the population and housing census, as necessary conditions have not yet been met to ensure the essential features of a census, i.e., individual enumeration, simultaneity, universality, small area data, defined periodicity, and quality.

We understand that key information to be collected in the Vietnam population and housing census such as the reproductive history of women, education, death, migration, imbalance of the sex ratio at birth, disability, marriage, including child marriage and customary marriage, education, workforce, housing conduction, etc. are not available or designed in these databases or administrative sources to meet with census requirements. In addition, it is important to recognize that such a national database, once set, is not flexible enough to change, add, or delete indicators and questions (as change in the database would also mean difficulties in conducting trend analysis and comparisons of data at different points of time), while the census can be flexible and questionnaires adjusted as different population characteristics emerge over time. Moreover, it usually takes decades to improve and mature such national data systems to be used for the population and housing census.

It is against this background that we strongly advise that Vietnam assess and prepare the transition with extreme caution, from traditional to different types of censuses, ranging from data needs availability, technological viability, and legal and stakeholder considerations. It is highly likely that such a transition can give rise to some unexpected challenges, which can possibly increase the cost in the end.