Burma’s Ministry of Immigration and Population released provisional census data on Saturday, showing that the country has a population of 51.4 million people, almost ten million fewer than previous estimates.
The data indicates that of that number, 26,598,244 are women and 24,821,176 are men. A total of 50,213,067 people were enumerated, but the figures include an estimated 1.2 million people who were not counted in parts of Arakan, Kachin and Karen states.
According to a statement by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), about 1.09 million people were not counted in parts of Arakan State.
“Most of those who wanted to self-identify their ethnicity as Rohingya were not enumerated,” the statement read.
Rohingya Muslims are denied citizenship in Burma, as the government and much of the general population considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Burma’s national census — the country’s first population count in 30 years, conducted from 29 March to 10 April — was highly contentious partly because it solicited detailed ethnic information.
While questions about ethnicity hit a nerve with many people in Burma, which has struggled with ethnic insurgencies and repression of minorities for decades, it was particularly sensitive in Arakan State, where people who self-identify as Rohingya were instructed to call themselves either “Bengali” or “other”.
The survey was problematic in other parts of the country, as well; census workers were unable to go to several areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Army in northern Burma, where armed conflict has devastated communities since mid-2011.
Fighting in Kachin State and parts of northern Shan State have displaced approximately 120,000 people over the last three years, an unknown number of whom have fled to China. Such displacement has further complicated attempts to accurately depict the population.
In Karen State, southeastern Burma, the UNFPA said that the Karen National Union provided data that they collected independently for one area, but that it was checked against other similar territories and appeared consistent enough to base an estimate upon.
The UNFPA, which has provided technical, logistical and financial support for Burma’s census, said that data collection and analysis were conducted under the guidance of foreign experts and in accordance with international standards.
“The census is a valuable national resource,” said UNFPA representative Janet Jackson, speaking at a meeting in Rangoon on Saturday, 30 August. “For the first time in decades, the country will have data it needs to put roads, schools, health facilities and other essential infrastructure where people need them most.”
The UNFPA said that more detailed information will be available in May 2015, and that it is not uncommon for the fully analysed data to vary slightly from preliminary results.