The need for universal participation in the 2021 Population and Housing [Article]


The 2021 Ghana Population and Housing Census takes off in less than a week, in fact listing of housing structures has already begun. The decennial census is of great importance for a country to know the demographic, economic, social and spatial characteristics of its population as well as their housing conditions, to form the basis for population and development planning, good governance, market research, social welfare and disaster risk management. It behoves all residents in Ghana to recognize their important rolesas actors towards successful generation of national data and statistics. T

he census affects every fabric of political and economic life in the country. So, what exactly is a census? The United Nations defines a population census as the total process of collecting, compiling, evaluating, analysing and publishing or otherwise disseminating demographic, economic and social data pertaining, at a specified time,to all persons in a country. A housing census, on the other hand, is the total process of collecting, compiling, evaluating, analysing and publishing or otherwise dissemination of statistical data pertaining, at a specified time, toall livng quarters and their occupants thereofin a country.

The exercise in Ghana combines both population and housing census. A census is considered among the most complex and immense national exercises with international relevance. In many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) such as Ghana, a major traditional source of data continues to be this ancient yet invaluable process of counting individuals and assessing their demographic, socioeconomic and housing characteristics.

In a context where we do not have sophisticated and continuous population and residential data systems, the importance of the population and housing census cannot be overstated. In the next few paragraphs, we seek to discuss,briefly,six reasons for the importance of population and housing censuses beyond counting to know the total number of persons in a country.

First, throughout history, and across geographical areas, governments have used the census to plan for military service, food buffer stocks, taxation and resource allocation among others. In recent times, a population and housing census aids in social and economic policy decision-making.

Social policies can be educational, health, employment or housing related. A country can decide on the number of schools to build and where to build them or feeding programmes based on the known number and distribution of children of school-going age in the country.

Similarly, decisions on health facilities and health service provision are based on the population distribution and composition in the country. Economic policy decisions such as taxation, employment programmes and labour-related issues can be effective when there is a valid representation of employment distribution across the country. For instance, knowing the total number of police officers, doctors, teachers and students can help us estimate the police to civilian ratio, doctor to patient ratio, and teacher to student ratio in the country, respectively.

This guides posting of personnel who provide essential services across various districts in the country.The population and housing census provides governments with the necessary data for such policy planning and implementation.

Second, the population and housing census is important since it helps for administrative and electoral boundary delimitation. Local administrations such as districts are based on populations and so is electoral boundaries such as constituencies.

The creation of new districts and their elevation to municipal and metropolitan status depends on a minimum population requirement. Conducting a population census helps the mandated government agencies to know the places that need to be re-classified based on their population growth.

Furthermore, the population and housing census aids academic research. Academics, particularly within the social sciences, rely on data from the population and housing census to undertake academic research, which ultimately inures to the benefit of society.

Academic research forms the basis for teaching and learning across many levels of the educational curriculum. The more frequent population and housing censuses are conducted the more available relevant data are to academics to study the population and its dynamics to proffer solutions to social challenges. Poor data quality means a poor knowledge base which will translate into a poor understanding of our country.

To all those who may have privacy concerns, an important feature of the census is its confidentiality and the deidentificationof cases. The Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) only provides 10 percent of the entire data collected for analysis by data users who pledge to keep the data confidential and not share unless authorised to do so. In addition, this dataset is deidentified and GPS points are not traceableby users of the data.

Fourth, population and housing census provides businesses with information about potential demand and supply so that they can plan accordingly.

Efficient planning is essential for businesses to make profits, expand and employ more people. For instance, knowing the proportion of young people in rural activities and their poverty or wealth levels can propel entrepreneurs and investors in equipment or automobile production to go into local manufacturing of robust but cost-effective farm implements and pickup tricycles (Abossey-Okai macho/aboboyaa, etc.) for which there is a ready market.

Knowing the population of women aged 10 to 50 years can, for instance, help importers or local producers of sanitary pads to estimate the available market for sanitary pads over the next few years. You will need a demographer to help estimate levels of amenorrhoea, by the way.

Knowing the population and distribution of the aged, juxtaposed with the general health systems information, can help estimate the demand for gerontological services in the country and by location.

Fifth, population and housing censuses makes it possible for comparative studies or analysis between countries because the questionnaire used are mostly similar across countries.

The population and housing census is the most comprehensive data source on a country’s population, so this helps academics, international organizations and other stakeholderscarry outcountry-level, sub-regional and also regional comparative studies. The census also provides data to measure our progress towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The census is the main source of data to measure about 96 indicators of the SDGs including labour force participation, education, health, water and sanitation indicators.For Ghanato determine its status relative to its ECOWAS neighbours and other countries globally or on the continent requires standardized data, which can be obtained from a population and housing census.

Finally, it is important to note that there are other major sources of population data which includes surveys such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), the Ghana Living Standards Survey (GLSS), the Census of Agriculture, and the Integrated Business Establishment Survey (IBES), among others.

The population and housing census provides the fundamental sampling frames for the conduct of such surveys and other sub-national surveys in order to make them representative of the larger population. In fact, resource allocation for conducting exercises such as the electoral register and national identification are based on population structure and distribution data from the census.

The above notwithstanding, there have been reports of resistance and hostility to officials of the GSS in the listing process of the 2021 Population and Housing Census. This is unfortunate considering the importance of this exercise to national development.

The expansion of internet access and mobile phone ownership has provided many with a massive tool for information acquisition and dissemination. However, as evident from the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, misinformation and disinformation are also rife and inhibit the spread of useful information at times.  It is common for some political,religious, and other social influencers to propagate ultracrepidarian views via social media to sabotage this all-important national exercise. The GSS, like many statistical services and bureaus globally, seeks to provide timely accurate data on the true state of our country at all times.

The work of the GSS is closely monitored by academics and researchers as well as international bodies who depend on them for data. The Service does not benefit, in any form,from tampering with the data and should be encouraged to fulfil its mandate as required by theStatistical Services Act 2019 (Act 1003) and international best practices. Persons peddling false information about the census processes will do us massive harm if we fail to achieve the aims of this decadal opportunity for a complete census of the people in this country and their living conditions. There is the need for all and sundry to participate and support this massive data collection exercise.

The importance of the census cannot be over-emphasized since its impact cuts across every sphere of our national endeavour related to the production and distribution of material wealth and social welfare; hence,we must make every effort to gather complete and accurate data from thisyear’s exercise.

Given this opportunity to enhance data collection, analysis and timely dissemination, an all-hands-on-deck approach is required to ensure effective data collection and management. No harm will befall any group or persons for participating in the census. The least we can do as citizens will be to give census officials the necessary hospitality and provide them with accurate information for our own good.

You count, we count, let’s get counted!

Yaw Atiglo & Adriana A. E. Biney – Regional Institute for Population Studies, University of Ghana, Legon

Yaw Atiglo & Adriana A. E. Biney (Regional Institute for Population Studies, University of Ghana, Legon)

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