Officials conceded last week that census data is likely to be incomplete in several parts of Myanmar, as tens of thousands of enumerators fanned out across the country to count the country’s estimated 11 million households.

At the end of April 3, about 30 percent of households had already completed the census, the government-appointed Central Census Committee said.

The census – Myanmar’s first in more than 30 years – was launched on March 30. In the first two days enumerators counted 2,035,001 households out of an estimated 11 million. The census is scheduled to finish on April 10.

However, officials conceded that in Rakhine, Kachin and northern Shan State, data collection will be incomplete because of conflict with armed ethnic groups and disputes over ethnicity.

“We are continuing the process of taking the census but the process cannot be carried out in some regions of Kachin State and northern Shan State, as well as [in areas of] Rakhine State [where the population calls themselves] Rohingya,” Department of Population director general U Myint Kyaing told The Myanmar Times.

State media accused the Kachin Independence Army of trying to “interrupt census taking process”, reporting on April 1 and 3 and that KIA troops had threatened and disrupted enumerators in parts of Mansi and Mogaung townships in Kachin State and Momeik and Manton townships in Shan State.

La Mai Gun Jar from the Kachin-based Peace-talk Creation Group (PCG) said the KIA did not agree to let enumerators enter those areas because fighting is still continuing between Kachin and government troops. As The Myanmar Times has previously reported, the government had no agreement with the Kachin for the census to take place in KIA-controlled areas.

“For local security reasons we are not ready to allow [enumerators] into these areas. We already told Minister [for Immigration and Population] U Khin Yi that we are not going to allow the census to take place in KIA areas,” he said.

U Myint Kyaing said that government would leave those inaccessible areas out of the census and residents would not be counted.

Activist Daw Khun Jar from the Kachin Peace Network said the exclusion of Kachin people would cast doubt on the legitimacy of the results.

“If all Kachin people cannot participate in this census then the government can’t know exactly the population and number of households,” she said.

The accuracy of the data is likely to be further clouded by figures from areas under the control of the Karen National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU).

KNU central executive committee member Phado Mann Nyein Maung said the group did not allow government enumerators to collect data in KNU areas. Instead, the organisation will gather the data with its own enumerators and give it to the government.

It remains unclear whether the Central Census Committee will accept the KNU data, although the KNU said its enumerators had received government training.

Meanwhile, in Rakhine State, as many as 1 million Muslims will not be included in the results because of a dispute over their ethnicity. Just days prior to the census the government announced it would only allow them to self-identify as Bengali, not Rohingya, in apparent contravention of an earlier agreement with the United Nations Population Fund. The Central Census Committee instructed enumerators to skip any households that planned to respond as Rohingya, U Myint Kyaing said.

“We do not have Rohingya in Myanmar … so we cannot consider allowing them [to self-identify as such],” he added.

Paul Cheung, co-chair of the International Technical Advisory Board and a faculty member at National University of Singapore, said undercounting was an issue in every census.

The ITAB is a body of 15 global experts in the field of statistics, demography and census taking that was established to guide the holding of Myanmar’s census.

“Even in the US, undercount is a big issue after spending billions,” he said. “But normally, undercount is not deliberate or systematic.

“In Rakhine, this could be a ‘systematic undercount’, deliberately excluding a certain ethnic group, if the press reports are true.”

However, he said it was still possible the data could be later rectified to include those groups who are not being counted.

“During the Asian Financial Crisis 1998-2000, Indonesia was going through a hard time … They did a census then and the data for some communities cannot be used due to ethnic conflicts and riots. So, they make some adjustments. The same is true for Kosovo census, where the Serbs boycotted the census,” he said.

“But to do that, we need the government to accept the fact there is a problem, and release other data for us to make the corrections of undercount.”

He said the data would still be useful despite the large number of households that are likely to be skipped.

“The census preparatory activities went very well. We are confident that for the bulk of Myanmar, the census will yield very good data for future planning use.” – Additional reporting by Bill O’Toole