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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Census maps our changing society ]

Census maps our changing society

Alexis Pantelides

WE DON’T reply to our mail, and our internet use is below the EU average. These are two major reasons why in the year 2011, our census is still being carried out by door-to-door census takers.

“Bearing in mind the Cypriots’ slackness in responding to their mail, had we sent out census forms through the post, I bet we would have only received 10 per cent of them,” said Dora Kyriakidou, coordinator of this year’s census.

Kyriakidou explained that the Cypriot mentality, along with environmental costs and the island’s small size made door-to-door the most practical - though perhaps anachronistic - method for conducting the census. 

To this end, 750 census-takers equipped with mini-laptops and maps, are presently roaming the island in what is Cyprus’ fourteenth census in its recent history. 

The census, which kicked off proceedings on October 1 and is expected to be completed by mid-November is conducted by the Cyprus Statistical Service (CSS). It is expected to record about 410,000 housing units, 290,000 households and a population of about 810,000 persons. It takes place every ten years, with the most recent one held in 2001. 

While other countries have provided the public with the opportunity to fill in the census questionnaire on-line, or by post, Cyprus has employed a total of 830 temporary employees (750 census takers, 80 regional inspectors) - added to the 30-odd permanent staff - to collect, process and register the information on the CSS’s database. The census will cost a total of €3.3 million.

Following suit from the last census in 2001, this year’s will still be conducted door-to-door, yet instead of forms the census-takers are issued a small laptop which has the questionnaire incorporated. 

Census takers go door-to-door and ask people several standard questions concerning personal and housing information. The data is registered directly onto the laptop in a process that usually takes around 10 minutes.

The data finds its way to the CSS main server via multiple transfers and checks at regional and district level with four district servers - Nicosia, Limassol, Paphos and the joint Larnaca and Famagusta - operating continuously. 

The security of the system is perceived as tamper proof and a total of seven backups during the whole process ensure that the data is not lost in any transfer.

The system used was designed in cooperation with the Dutch Statistical Service, and was offered to Cyprus for free.

Explaining the reasoning behind the choice for a door-to-door system, Dora Kyriakidou, coordinator of this year’s census, said that it was the most financially sound, efficient and practical choice for Cyprus.

“We are accustomed to the software, because we have used it extensively in other researches along the years, and since we got it for free, it made sense that we would go with what we know” said Kyriakidou.

“We conducted three pilot censuses in the last two years, with the most recent one back in February 2011, and they indicated that the procedure would work fine” said Kyriakidou.

Other European countries of similar small population size also follow the door-to-door method. Malta and Luxembourg still operate with this approach, as it is deemed straight forward and practical, due to the small distances and small population.

The questions were pre-set by the law of the EU, which dictated that a census should be taken in all countries of the union. The EU also provided an index with the definitions of each question, so as to secure a common understanding throughout the Union. 

Residents are asked to give details about their education, employment status, religion, language, place of birth, nationality and information on their housing units. 

Kyriakidou said that accurate demographic information enables policy-makers to target their policies correctly in accordance to the needs of regional populations. 

“I don’t feel the questions are intrusive in any way because if people feel uncomfortable, they can always remain anonymous,” said Kyriakidou while reiterating that the private information will remain in the possession of the CSS.

The 750 census-takers, who all bear identification, undertook a week’s training on how to use the laptop and how to behave. They operate within areas of less than one squared kilometre and usually in neighbourhoods close to their homes.

They were all unemployed prior to securing a job for the census.

“I had been looking for a job for quite a while and was starting to lose hope, so I grabbed the opportunity when positions opened,” said a 24-year-old postgraduate census-taker.

“There was no age limit for the job, but people employed tend to be in their twenties and early thirties,” says a 27-year-old graduate, currently working as a regional inspector in Nicosia. 

The unemployment rate in Cyprus reached 7.2 per cent last August, continuing its upward trend, and it incorporates a fairly prominent share of young graduates.

The wage of a census-taker is estimated to be around €1,500 for two months of work, and must register at least 90 households per week during an eight-hour schedule. They do not visit between 1 and 4p.m., which are hours of public siesta.

If residents are away from home after several visits, the census-taker leaves his contact details and sets an appointment for his next visit. Residents can set a meeting at their own convenient time. 

Applicants were expected to be at least fluent in Greek and English. They also carry with them copies of the questionnaire in Russian, Turkish, Bulgarian and Romanian which they provide to foreign residents. The details are still registered into the laptop directly.

“We originally employed 800 census-takers, but unfortunately 50 of them couldn’t cope,” said Kyriakidou.

“It is uncomfortable knocking on people’s doors,” said another census-taker.

According to a few census-takers, there have been several cases of people refusing to answer the door, despite the fact that it is mandatory.

Earlier this week, Kyriakidou said that it was mostly foreigners who were reluctant to answer the door.

The suspicion and distrust of foreign residents living in Cyprus towards the census does not shock Nicos Peristianis, dean of sociology at the University of Nicosia. 

Peristianis said that most immigrants have limited interaction with Cypriots, which would explain their distrust. 

“When a Cypriot turns up on their doorstep, their sense of isolation is violated and it is natural that they would feel intimidated,” said Peristianis although he could not rule out the possibility that immigrants’ reluctance could be attributed to an effort to hide something.

It is the foreign element which promises to provide one of the most interesting statistics of the census. The percentage of foreign residents is expected to be much higher than in 2001.

Back then, just 9.4 per cent of the population, a little over 65,000 people were foreign residents, with 2.5 per cent of those being Greek nationals, 1.7 per cent British nationals and 0.7 per cent Russian nationals. These three groups’ numbers are expected to note a stark increase. 

“The questionnaire is entirely confidential and we are not interested on the legal status of immigrants or in people’s private lives; but merely on the demographical characteristics on a small geographical level,” said Kyriakidou. 

A census in the north is also expected to be conducted in late November, and the fact that the two censuses were conducted separately was a controversial topic in the peace talks.

Until earlier this week, the CSS had registered over 200,000 people and up to 87,000 housing units. The CSS said it was confident that the census would finish on time, sometime in mid-November with the results ready next spring.

(Source: Cyprus Mail)
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2008 Please contact Cyprus Mail for the copyright terms of this article.

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