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Celebrating World Population Day – and Supporting Evidence-Based Policymaking Worldwide for Over 65 Years

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We live in a global society. It’s been that way for a while, even as we continue to see ourselves and our lives through the geographic parochial lens of our choosing. Yet, every day there’s virtually nothing we do that isn’t influenced in part or whole by our global society, economy or the richness of cultures worldwide. At our core, we all are part of the people of Earth, a mere speck in the vastness of the universe. We don’t seem to appreciate our togetherness enough. 

That’s why today is so special.

I bid you a Happy World Population Day!

Did you know the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Database indicates the world population will surpass 8 billion before year’s end? That’s an 8 with nine zeros after it! Across the globe, population statistics are used to pursue equitable growth, sustainable development and informed decision-making.

We’re proud the Census Bureau is the leading source of statistical information about our nation’s population. But many people don’t realize the Census Bureau also plays a key role in strengthening the capabilities of national statistical offices in low- and middle-income countries. For over two thirds of a century, we’ve partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to help over 100 nations produce high quality official statistics.

Why is this important? National governments and international aid organizations depend on these data for economic development, disaster recovery, public health, infrastructure planning and more. Take Cyclone Freddy, for instance. It struck Madagascar, Mozambique, Malawi and other nations in Africa in February and March, leaving devastation and destruction in its wake. Families watched their homes and loved ones wash away in torrents of muddy water. The cyclone caused the deaths of over 1,000 men, women and children. The aftermath led to cholera outbreaks, triggering an even greater loss of life. In addition, malaria – an ever-present threat in this part of the world – was exacerbated by a proliferation of stagnant water.

During disasters like this one, governments and aid organizations depend on data to send humanitarian assistance and medical supplies where they are most needed, set up shelters and food pantries, and plan the reconstruction of lost infrastructure like roads and bridges, utilities, schools and hospitals.

Here in the U.S., emergency response officials can rely on multiple data sources and tools to assess disaster impacts. They have access to administrative records, censuses, and high-quality survey data and tools like our American Community Survey and OnTheMap for Emergency Management.

But the situation is different in many low- and middle-income countries, which only count their populations and learn about their characteristics at the lowest levels of geography during their decennial censuses. In those countries, high-quality census data is essential. Capabilities the Census Bureau built at national statistical offices – including those in Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique – greatly benefitted the Cyclone Freddy response effort. Census data provided maps and demographic profiles of the affected areas, facilitating a more effective and efficient response.

The world looks quite different than it did when we began our partnership with USAID over 65 years ago. (For one thing, the global population in 1960 – the first census round after we partnered –– was only slightly over 3 billion!) Throughout this period of immense change, the Census Bureau’s assistance in the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia has helped the world track and understand its changing population.

Our International Programs Center performs analytical work and helps assist national statistical offices around the world collect, process, analyze, disseminate and use statistics. With USAID’s support, Census Bureau staff travel to other countries to work side-by-side with our host country counterparts to strengthen their efforts to conduct high-quality population and housing censuses and surveys.

The center also produces free tools that enhance data quality and facilitate the census-taking process, such as the Tool for Assessing Statistical Capacity, the Census and Survey Processing System and the Demographic Analysis and Population Projections System. We produce a series of technical notes on Select Topics in International Censuses and Select Topics in International Population and Health, which multiply the value of census and survey data by providing guidelines on their collection and analysis. And we collaborate with United Nations bodies, the International Committee on Census Coordination and other international groups to provide expert guidance and support in developing best practices for census taking in resource-constrained environments. Together, these assistance programs, tools and leadership roles support our partner countries in producing the high-quality official statistics they need to advance data-driven decision-making.

Over the years, many countries that benefited from our partnership have blossomed into mature statistical systems that disseminate high-quality statistical data and no longer need our assistance. The coming years will witness increasing intraregional cooperation, with graduated countries taking leading roles in developing the statistical systems of other countries within their own regions. This kind of international cooperation and networking nurtures a sustainable model of capacity strengthening. It also fulfils the ultimate goal of our partnership with USAID: for our partner countries to become less reliant on technical support to produce high-quality official statistics.

Much work remains. Better data are essential for focused, successful programs that can lift people out of poverty, support improved reproductive and other health outcomes, and empower women, youth and marginalized groups for a brighter future. We look forward to developing new and innovative ways to share the Census Bureau’s expertise globally through our partnership with USAID in the upcoming 2030 census round and beyond.

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