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In a surprising move, Myanmar has kicked off its first national census in three decades. The Myanmar government said the census is taking place across the country except in border areas of ethnic conflict, the Bangkok Post reported. The process of demographic data gathering will be relied on for policy making and for understanding the living conditions of the people of Burma.
The Burmese census program has been launched in association with the United Nations Population Fund where enumerators have been given lengthy list of questionnaire aiming to collect as much as data is possible that goes beyond common demographic parameters like fertility and mortality rates.
Population census acts as a bedrock for designing policy and remains a fundamental necessity for policy makers. It provides much needed insights into the state of the population from economic, social and religious prescriptive, since census is a survey of population from various different angles in order understand the real situation and implement policies that optimally corresponds and resolves problems and of the country.
According to Al-Jazeera’s website, Frederick Okwayo, adviser to the Department of Population, said “for any planning, be it planning for basic education, planning for health services, planning for housing, you need [to know] how many people are there.”
Burma is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world with dozens of different sub-groups. But the Burmese government does not officially recognize all of the ethnic groups, the Voice of America reported.
The country remains divided over different ethnic sections and especially Rohingya Muslims have become a source of contention because Rohingyas are considered as foreigners from Bangladesh. They are therefore not part of the 135 ethnic groups classified for the purpose of the census and won’t be counted for the population data tables.
According to the Fox News website, Ye Htut, the presidential spokesman, announced that Rohingya would not be allowed to identify themselves as such on the ballots. “It will be acceptable if they write ‘Bengali’. We won’t accept them as Rohingya,” he stated.
Over the last few years violent ethnic clashes between Muslims and Buddhists has greatly divided the country; devastating the lives of thousands of people, forcing them to seek temporary refuge away from their towns, displaced and helpless.
Launching of census is a strong single indicating that administration is committed to improve the state of its citizens but the deliberate exclusion of Rohingya Muslims may turn out to be a cause for tension in future.