Population estimate of Afghanistan almost finished

Prague, January 20, 2005 - The head of Afghanistan's Central Statistics Office says the most comprehensive population estimate in the country since 1979 is nearing completion.

Ajmal Watanyar has said that statistically-based estimates are missing only for some of the southern Afghan provinces where clashes continue between Taliban fighters and U.S.-led coalition forces:

"We have accomplished our work in 30 provinces of Afghanistan and our work is continuing in three provinces. They are Helmand, Daikondi, and Paktika. The only province that is left is Zabol Province and we are planning to go there soon [to start our work]."

Yanming Lin is the Asia area director for the United Nations Population Fund, which is assisting Kabul's attempts to conduct a complete census. "What has nearly been completed is an exercise called a 'Household Listing' exercise," he said. "So, of course, it is not a door-to-door exercise. It is different from a census. A household listing is done by some [statistical] sampling rather than a full census. A population housing census is quite different. The full census, as far as we know, has not started yet."

Lin says it remains unclear when thousands of census workers -- known as enumerators -- will begin household interviews across the country:

"There are a lot of factors that would determine the day when the actual enumeration starts to takes place. We are trying to mobilize resources, first of all. And we are trying to guarantee that the technical expertise is there first. And we want to make sure that the whole exercise, once it is undertaken, becomes a success. For a census, the enumeration workers will have to visit the households door-to-door. We have to map out the census first. We have to find out how many households are easily accessible. And there are a lot of factors that will determine the number of enumerators that will be required."

Andrew Wilder is the Kabul-based director of an election monitoring group called the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit. "Unfortunately, there won't be a full census prior to the parliamentary election," he said. "But it has been a fairly comprehensive pre-census exercise -- based on household enumeration -- which has generated new figures. And so those figures will be used for the apportioning of seats for parliamentary elections by province."