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IDB, World Bank, and Colombia host international seminar on racial and ethnic factors in Latin American censuses

The Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the National Statistics Department of Colombia (DANE) will jointly host an international seminar Nov. 8-10 to identify strategies to promote an accurate count of ethnic and cultural diversity in the censuses of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The conference will encourage recognition of the importance of indigenous groups and persons of African descent in the region --a subject that is scarcely dealt with in censuses-- in order to strengthen ethnic identities and include their presence and specific necessities in official policies. Organized by DANE, the forum is titled: "We All Count: Ethnic Groups in the Census."

The session will open Nov. 8 at 8:30 a.m. in the Hotel Caribe and will be inaugurated by Colombia’s Vice President Gustavo Bell; IDB Vice President for Planning and Administration Paulo Paiva; Olivier Lafourcade, director of the World Bank Management Unit for Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela; the director of DANE, María Eulalia Artela; and the director of Census and Demography for Colombia, Yolanda Bodnar.

Attending the seminar will be directors of both population and housing censuses of countries in the region, representatives of indigenous and Afro organizations, and international experts. The delegates will analyze ways to gather updated, reliable, and relevant information on minority cultural groups.

The participants will also debate three central themes: concepts and methodologies to determine ethnicity; basic variables to measure the quality of life of different ethnic groups and to compare the information to the censuses of different countries; and specific strategies for the participation of communities in training for census-taking.

Research by the IDB and other organizations show that economic growth and openness, the integration of markets, and the gap between the rich and poor has widened and is reflecting cultural, ethnic, and racial differences.

Although there is scarce data, available evidence suggests a strong correlation between poverty, inequity, and social exclusion on the one hand, and racial and ethnic groups on the other. For example, indigenous communities constitute 10 percent of Latin America’s total population yet nevertheless represent 25 percent of the poor.

In countries where statistical data can be properly analyzed --such as Bolivia, Brazil, Guatemala and Peru-- racial and ethnic factors, along with other factors such as education, explain approximately 25 percent of the poverty and inequity levels.

"It is important to understand that modernization and development do not result in cultural homogeneity," said Paulo Paiva, "and we must take pride in the cultural and ethnic diversity of Latin America."

"But this recognition of diversity is not enough. It is also necessary to go a step further and incorporate cultural diversity in public policies."

"The collection of disaggregated data showing race and ethnicity will help us analyze in depth the specificities of these groups in relation to how they are affected by public policies and programs designed to reduce poverty."

"Therefore the challenge is to obtain adequate information that will allow us to better design, focus, and carry out anti-poverty programs," Paiva added.

In 1996 the IDB, in conjunction with the World Bank and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, launched the Program for the Improvement of Surveys and Measurement of Living Conditions in Latin America (better known by its Spanish acronym MECOVI), to strengthen the technical capacity of institutions in charge of statistics of the countries of the region.

The new activities of the IDB are in the framework of preparatory efforts of Latin America for the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance (UNWCAR), which will take place in South Africa in August 2001.

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