Myanmar up for the count

A Muslim man (left) answers questions during a census taking in the village of Barasa. Photo by AFP.

A Muslim man (left) answers questions during a census taking in the village of Barasa. Photo by AFP.

On Sunday Myanmar started its first census in 30 years.

And while the national survey poses many challenges and risks, including sectarian violence, it also presents some opportunities, says New Mandala co-founder Nicholas Farrelly.

Speaking to the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific from Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw, Farrelly said the census highlights a “huge conundrum”.

“We don’t know what we don’t know,” he said.

“Across the gamut of Myanmar society the information available to decision-makers is incomplete and inconsistent. For example, are all 135 national races recognised by the country viable categories?

“The census can help illuminate some of the blanks on the map. Crunching the numbers and offering a full analysis will take patience and specialist skills.

“For Myanmar’s people and government, to say nothing of interested outsiders, it will be a steep and bumpy learning curve.”

But while the census is an important first step as policymakers and officials embark on a renewed agenda of nation building after five decades of military dictatorship, Farrelly warned people should temper their expectations.

“Information from this census will be piecemeal and often wrong, but it will be a worthwhile start,” he said. “If you wait for the perfect conditions, then you will be waiting for a very long time.”

Read the full story at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.