A population and housing census is the primary source of information about the number and characteristics of a given population in each locality. It takes stock of the most important asset of countries: their human capital.
Even in ancient times, rulers counted their subjects for the purpose of taxation and recruitment. In the mid-1950s, worldwide consensus established the key features of a census: Individual enumeration (confidentiality) within a defined area (universality) over a short time-frame (simultaneity) and at regular intervals (periodicity).
A population census provides a sampling frame, as well as a baseline for population and related functional projections that are crucial for sectoral planning. Further, insofar as international definitions and classifications are used, censuses also provide for the comparability of basic development indicators among countries, including many of those that are used to benchmark progress in achieving the MDGs.
This is to say, politically, we can't have free and fair elections without an accurate voters' roll. We can't be sure the voters' roll is accurate if we haven't got good census figures to compare it with. But the census is also important for economic planning, and it does more than count the population. It collects information on their ages, educational level, marital status, access to health services and a lot of other factors that government needs to take into account to produce relevant policies.
Whereas developed countries have a wealth of statistics that could substitute for census data, we in developing countries like The Gambia typically lack well-maintained administrative registries and longitudinal data that are needed for tracking trends. This makes regular, periodic censuses all the more important for governments and potential donors.
As the Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBoS) begins the groundwork for another population and housing census in the country, we call on donors and institutions to come to its aid by filling the census basket with the financial and material resources needed to accomplish this noble goal.