Afghanistan’s population statistics
By Najib Manalai: Lately the demographic figures of Afghanistan have come to the focus of news in relation with the electoral turnout dispute. This situation is a good opportunity to have a look at the various sources of demographic information available in the country.
Afghanistan has never conducted a proper population census. For planning purpose, Afghan population figures have always been based on rough estimates. Several sources are available:
1) Central Statistics Organization (CSO)
The Atlas of Afghanistan’s villages, published by the CSO in 1974 based its population estimates on figures provided by the Ministry of Interior (conscription and National ID cards distribution) and the Ministry of Agriculture (quantity of fertilizer distributed). Later on, it was decided that a general census would be conducted during the years 1978-1979. General insecurity prevailing in the country did not allow this census to take place. Instead, a partial survey was used to estimate the total population of the country. These figures, published in 1979, serve as a baseline for the official statistics delivered by the CSO.
The unprecedented migration that happened during the soviet occupation led nearly one third of Afghan population to flee to the neighboring Pakistan and Iran and to western countries. In the 1980’s scholars in Europe and other research centers reshaped their interpretation of Afghanistan’s demography. The main hypothesis was that a majority of the people from the southern belt who moved to Pakistan will not return (it proved to be incorrect) and, therefore should not be counted in the total Afghan population anymore. This stance led to revise the ethnic composition of the country (figures provided by CIA Factsheets are, seemingly, constructed according to this assumption).
In 2004, CSO published estimated figures of the settled population. Since 2007, the CSO applies a constant population growth rate of 2.05% to update its figures. It has to be noted that these figures exclude the nomad population.
The CSO figure for 1392 (2013-2014) are as follows:
|Fem. (000)||Male (000)||Total (000)||Increase|
It should be noted that;
a) The constant growth rate is not consistent with the return of the refugees, the betterment of health conditions and the growth of the life expectancy during the last several years.
b) The nomad population is ignored, while for the National Assembly representation 10 seats were given to the nomads, based on an estimation of 1.5 million.
c) The internally displaced population and the rural-urban shift are not reflected.
It clearly appears that the CSO figures reflect a severe underestimation of the real demography.
The united Nation Population Fund has conducted a survey of the houses in 2004. It provides population figures, province wise. Here again the migration dynamics are not taken into consideration and the nomad population is ignored. The UNFPA estimate of total population for 2014 is 28.9 million.
3) Polio Eradication Campaign
During the National Immunization Days, nearly every under 5 child in the country is reached during two yearly vaccination campaigns. Therefore, the estimates provided by the polio eradication campaign could be considered as quite close to the reality. However, since the data collected is related to actual households during the campaign, these figures cannot reflect the migration dynamics and cannot account for the exact population figures of provinces located on the nomadic displacement routes. NIDs estimate of the total population in 2014 is 44.8 million.
4) Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development
The National Solidarity Program is amongst the very well distributed aid delivery programs. It reaches nearly every single village in the country and provides a set of valuable data. While population estimates provided by MRRD can be considered as a reliable source of information for rural areas, it cannot provide a reliable picture of the urban population and of the nomads. According to MRRD afghan population in 2014 is of 36.3 million.
5) Other sources
Sources such as UNICEF, World Bank, Ministry of Education are mostly indirect appreciation of the overall population (the baselines are not necessary relevant for every provincial situation).
Afghan refugees in Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, in Iran have a dual residence: they live in the host country for the most of time, but they return to their homeland for significant personal, family or public events. The exclusion of the refugees from the actual population of the southern belt leads to many misunderstanding of the demographic dynamics of the country.
The lack of good statistical tools make it difficult for any organization to precisely plan its activity. Every available source of information has its specific bias lines which should be considered when discussing Afghanistan’s population related facts.
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