Subject: ABC: East Timor census gauges population rates

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The World Today - East Timor census gauges population rates

[This is the print version of story]

The World Today - Friday, 9 July , 2004 12:34:00

Reporter: Anne Barker

ELEANOR HALL: In the next few weeks statisticians in East Timor could have a clearer idea of how the bloodshed in 1999 affected the size of the population.

The first national census begins in East Timor on Sunday, with thousands of people employed to survey every single household, right down to the last bamboo hut in the most far-flung corner of the country.

Organisers have included specific questions about 1999 to try to get some idea of just how many people were forcibly removed from the country, and how many have since returned.

And as Anne Barker reports, they're using state-of-the art technology to make sure everyone is counted.

ANNE BARKER: The last official count of East Timor's population was 14 years ago, when Indonesia was still firmly in control of what was then its 27th province. But since the independence ballot of 1999 everything has changed.

Hundreds were killed in the bloodshed, hundreds of thousands of civilians were forcibly removed from the country, and the Indonesians are gone. Now, the United Nations population fund is organising the first national census beginning on Sunday.

Its representative in Dili, Dan Baker, says it could shed some light on the massive displacement of population that's occurred in the last five years.

DAN BAKER: The questions are were you living in a different place in 1999 than you are now, and you know, and then if you've moved, why did you move and one of the reasons would be, like, violence or lack of security or something like that. So we'll be able to get some data on whether people were displaced because of the crisis in 1999.

ANNE BARKER: So indirectly, it could tell you perhaps, just roughly how many people disappeared or even died?

DAN BAKER: I think that that would be one of the things that analysts are going to look at.

ANNE BARKER: The logistics of counting East Timor's population are daunting. It may be a tiny country with a population well under one million, but the ruggedness and remoteness of the terrain outside Dili, means statisticians have had to find novel ways to reach every last household.

Teams of census workers will comb the country on donkeys to reach the most far-flung corners.

And Dan Baker says they'll be carrying state-of-the-art technology to complete the task.

DAN BAKER: One of the things that we have is that there's no such thing as an address system here, so there's no way that you can say that you've identified, you know, number five Meadow Lane, because there's no such address.

So one of the interesting things that we're doing is, that we're using the geographical positioning system, using a satellite to identify every household in the country.

And each team is taking with them one of these GPS devices, and they get an exact geographical reading of every household that they go to visit and where they ask questions, and then we compare that with maps that we got from the Australian Defence Forces which are accurate enough to show every structure in the country, and by matching up the geographical readings that the interviewers got, with a map we can tell whether every structure has been visited.

ANNE BARKER: And while east Timor's population certainly fell in the violence before independence, a very different trend has since turned the population rate around.

Fertility levels have jumped in the last two years, and Dan Baker says statisticians are keen to see how that's impacted on the population.

DAN BAKER: During the Indonesian period there was a fairly good public health system which included access to contraceptives. That system of course, was destroyed, and now the country is rebuilding a new system.

There was also the sense that as a new nation perhaps, in fact some quarters were saying, well, we need to build up the population, so there was maybe a sense that they had to… that because of the destruction of the war and the displacement of the war it's quite normal for population rates to go up.

ELEANOR HALL: Dan Baker, from the United Nations Population Fund in East Timor ending that report by Anne Barker.

© 2004 Australian Broadcasting Corporation


East Timor: First post-independence census starts Sunday at presidential palace

Dili, July 9 (Lusa) - Nearly 4,000 census agents fan out across East Timor Sunday for the country's first post-independence census, a sophisticated USD 2 million initiative backed by the UN Population Fund (UNPFA).

Aerial photographs, which will be used in tandem with GPS satellite positioning systems, have already identified about 180,000 dwellings, estimated to shelter some 1 million people, UNPFA operations chief Dan Baker told Lusa in Dili Thursday.

The three-week census will "constitute an important step for the reconstruction of the country", providing the government with important policy-making information, Baker said.

Beyond determining the size of the population, the house-to- house census, mobilizing 3,800 agents, will gather, among other data, information on population distribution, educational levels, languages, employment, and religious persuasion.

To set an example, the census-taking begins Sunday at the official residences of President Xanana Gusmão and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in Dili.

Baker said that population figures would be made public by the end of July and other data by November, at the latest.

East Timor's last census was taken under Indonesian occupation in 1990.

Dili requested UN aid for a new census shortly after independence in May 2002, following the scorched-earth campaign that accompanied Indonesia's withdrawal from the territory in 1999.

At that time, some 250,000 Timorese either fled or were forced across the border into Indonesia by pro-Jakarta militias.

The vast majority of those refugees and deportees have since returned home.


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