Central Bureau of Statistics told to make plan for conducting census before DashainWith a third wave of Covid-19 projected to hit the country around the same time, the bureau faces challenge.
After the postponement of the planned population census in June, the government is now weighing if it can be done before the Dashain festival.
But some officials say that the looming threat of a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has raised doubts if the census could be held ahead of the festival, which falls in October this year.
Furthermore, they say conducting a census when the government is also planning to stage elections in November may hamper data collection process as people may not be found at their homes for survey.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari on May 21 dissolved the House of Representatives and announced fresh parliamentary elections for November 12 and 19 as per the recommendation of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.
“The National Planning Commission vice-chairperson, who is also the chairperson of the Census Steering Committee, has instructed us to submit a plan with a timetable of completing the task before the Dashain festival,” said Hem Raj Regmi, deputy director general at the bureau.
“We are still discussing the matter as the Health Ministry officials are projecting that there is a high probability that a third wave of the pandemic may hit the country in September-October.”
Regmi said the bureau would prepare the plan only after holding another round of discussion with the Health Ministry.
Two weeks ago, the bureau had proposed conducting the census from July 30 to October 1.
In early May, the Cabinet had decided to halt the preparatory work for the census scheduled for June 8-22 amid surging cases of Covid-19.
The bureau had completed the training for trainers before the Cabinet decision and was providing training to supervisors–the officers who oversee the work of enumerators.
The enumerators were supposed to be trained starting June 3 before the count started from June 8.
The bureau has already appointed 39,000 enumerators and 8,000 supervisors. Most parts of the country have been under a Covid-19 lockdown since late April amid the second wave of infections.
Census experts say conducting the population headcount in a timely manner is vital as the gap between the previous and the new count could create difficulty in producing comparative data and complicate the data analysis.
Census is important because it provides comprehensive data on the population, economy and society, which is crucial for devising policies to ensure political representation of various groups in the state organs, as well as for making development plans.
Nepal last held its census in 2010-11 when the country’s population stood at 26.5 million.
Projections suggest the country’s population by now has reached around 30 million mark.
Nepal has been conducting its census every 10 years. The only time the census was postponed was in 1951 after the abolition of the autocratic Rana rule a year earlier.
This time the census bureau is facing an unprecedented challenge because of the pandemic.
If anything the challenge has increased with a third—and potentially more lethal—wave of infections imminent.
A survey conducted by Reuters in early June among health specialists, scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and professors showed that most of them (85 percent) believed that India would be hit by a third wave by October. Some others projected that the third may hit India even earlier.
“If India is at risk of being hit by a third wave, Nepal cannot remain untouched,” Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku, told the Post. “Conducting a census in such a situation can be difficult if not impossible.”
Pun also fears the elections announced for November could speed up the infection rate, because the people’s mobility will increase for poll related activities.
He said the only way to conduct the census safely is to vaccinate a large number of the population, which is unlikely at the moment.
India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, continues to ban the export of vaccines to inoculate its own population, and Nepal’s prospects of immediately securing vaccines from other sources are dim.
Health experts like Pun advise against organising crowd-causing activities amid the pandemic.
“Besides election rallies and vote canvassing, mobility of enumerators for the census could prove costly,” said Pun.