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Comprehensive Kurdistan demographic survey a gateway to solutions

This article originally appeared in Rudaw.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) partnered with UN agencies the IOM and UNFPA to survey its demographics and provide a tangible snapshot of the population of the Kurdistan Region’s for international decision-makers.

For the first time since the Iraqi census in 1987, a comprehensive, internationally-assisted survey released on Thursday counts the population of the Kurdistan Region as 5.1 million, excluding the disputed areas.

“For the lack of any population statistics for thirty years and due to many changes taking place in this region we decided to conduct this survey,” said Ali Sindi, the KRG minister of planning.

Iraq and the Kurdistan Region have relied on food ration cards to count population and detail other demographics that directly impact Erbil’s share of the federal budget, cooperative projects, and funding by international bodies and other countries.

Pamela Fatima Husain, the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) senior programme manager in Iraq, explained their survey reveals opportunities but also room for improvement.

“It provides untapped potentials. For example, women in the workforce represent barely 15 percent of the women of working age,” she said.

The KRG closely matches the definition of a “rentier economy” with two-thirds of households dependent upon government jobs, according to the survey.

Public sector

employees — men and women — are the highest wage earners, able to make 750 million dinars ($630) or more monthly; however, they are also the most educated, holding the most secondary or above degrees.

For example, 91.7 percent of women the public sector have secondary or above degrees, while just 6 percent are employed in the private sector. Among their counterparts, 59.7 percent of men work in the public sector, while 13.9 are self-employed with 12.2 percent working in the private sector.

Youth unemployment is a serious concern.

“More than 20 percent of young unemployed men and women in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq between the ages of 18-34 have lost hope in finding a job in the near future…” Husain highlighted.

Youth have complained about ‘wasta’ (connections) or nepotism being a contributing factor to the unbalance. For its part KRG officials have acknowledged a bloated public sector and are working to encourage job growth and investment in the private sector.

The compiled data will be a useful tool for the KRG, said Sirwan Mohammed, the head of Kurdistan Region Department of Statistics.

“Our survey has found many indicators and it is from now the task of the government and its institutions to work on them. We’ll translate them and send it to all four provinces and local authorities,” he explained.

The KRG’s median age is 21, the survey revealed. By comparison, median age ranges from 15 in some African countries to around 40 in the United Kingdom. Thirty-five percent of the surveyed population in Kurdistan is under the age of 15 and that increases to 37 percent in rural populations.

However, that is not necessarily bad after a substantial decline in fertility rates. The average number of members in a household has dropped from 6.2 thirty years ago to 5.1. That is moving Kurdistan’s population into demographic stability.

“The low fertility rate means that our society and its life standard is becoming healthy because it is the same in other countries where they cannot bear and raise six children,” explained Mohammed.

Iraq’s population is predicted to reach 43 million by 2022, while the Kurdistan Region’s is expected to be at 6.5 million, or 15 percent of the country’s total, the KRG has previously stated.

Religious and ethnic data was not surveyed.

“We chose the questions together with the Kurdistan Region’s Statistics Office and UNFPA. This is standard survey for IOM,” said IOM communications officer Sandra Black.

“We’re pleased to contribute this data for future programming,” she added.

A census is being planned for 2020 in Iraq. Its political system allocates minority quota seats based on ethno-religious sects. National identity cards also require one to include a person’s religion. The counts, just as the elections, will be contested after more than a generation of piecemeal data which has been used to make decisions affecting land ownership, revenue sharing, infrastructure projects, and governmental posts.

This article was originally published in Rudaw.

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