KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s first population census, due to start this month, has been postponed for two years due to worries about confusion with voter registration and poor security, the United Nations said on Sunday.
The last attempt at a census in 1979 was never completed due to the outbreak of conflict which has ravaged the country almost continually ever since and made millions flee to neighboring countries or other parts of Afghanistan.
Without a proper census, policy makers have to rely on less scientific methods of determining the location and composition of the population and how to allocate much needed government funds and international aid.
The census is also central to a $50-billion five-year development strategy Afghanistan is due to present to international donors at a conference in Paris this week.
The cabinet postponed the census on the recommendation of the National Census Committee based on reports by international agencies, the U.N. population agency (UNFPA) said.
Carrying out voter registration for 2009 presidential elections and a population census in the same year risked politicizing the census and would jeopardize statistical integrity, UNFPA said.
Poor security in many parts of the country where Taliban insurgents are engaged in daily battles with Afghan and foreign forces was also a “major challenge”, the UNFPA said.
U.S.-led forces overthrew the fundamentalist Taliban government more than six years ago.
A district census official was killed in the eastern province of Paktia in April this year. Some 12,000 people have been killed since the Taliban relaunched their insurgency to overthrow the Afghan government and drive out foreign troops in early 2006.
Unfamiliarity with the concept of a population census in Afghan society, the need for more public outreach as well as a lack of data collectors were also reasons for delaying the census, the agency said.
The UNFPA carried out a nationwide household listing exercise which provided population estimates used in planning the parliamentary elections of 2005. The U.N. estimates Afghanistan’s population at more than 31 million.
Writing by Jonathon Burch; editing by Philippa Fletcher