Skip to main content

Statistics speak louder than words

Guatemala has declared that the next nationwide census will be a number one priority, underscoring the importance of reliable, timely and essential statistical information to support formulation and adoption of public policies and programs to promote development and fight poverty.

The Inter-American Development Bank has recently approved a $25 million loan to the country to strengthen the National Statistics Institute (INE) and to support the next population, housing and agriculture census. An important element of this effort is that, for the first time in 50 years, the census will count indigenous populations and minority groups.

Indigenous population


“The population and housing census will pay special attention to the coverage of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities. To that end, the project will work with civil society organizations, among them, the Maya University; the Maya Languages Foundation; the Foundation of Indigenous People; Municipalities, and Community Development Groups. It also will hire indigenous language translators who will help achieve its goals,” said IDB project team leader Guillermo Rivera.


The government has made the fight against poverty the central hub of its administration, so the need for accurate, timely and continuous data on population, housing and agriculture indicators is crucial for decision-making. The aim is to raise the level of national debate and decision-making on social and economic policies and improve their implementation and monitoring, which at present are not always based on timely and reliable information.


Why are these censuses so important to Guatemala?

The censuses are the largest-scale statistical operations normally facing any country. They represent the primary source of basic population, housing, and agriculture statistics used in national social and economic plans. For example, the agricultural census will provide information on land use and tenure, type and diversity of products, their origin and destination, and environmental conservation. The population census data will assist in formulating policies that call for a redefinition of the legal-administrative structure of national territory, and will have a decisive impact on laws governing the transfer of central government revenues to municipal jurisdictions.

There are other important benefits of the population census. First, identifying and quantifying the size and location of illiterate population groups will help in the design of literacy programs. Second, data on the size of ethnic groups are important for providing bilingual education in accordance with several articles in the Political Constitution of Guatemala. Third, official data will be used, as in many countries, to establish the number of deputies each electoral district is entitled to in the Congress and, similarly, the membership of municipal councils will depend on the number of persons in each municipality.

New versus old census


The last census was held in April 1994. Although it was completed, it was rejected by the municipalities affected by the armed conflicts that were ongoing at the time. This undermined the credibility of the results. Now that the peace accords are in place, this situation will not be repeated. To assure this, there must be a profound awareness on the part of the population, institutions and local authorities of the importance of cooperating with and participating in the census. An innovative IDB support program is being carried out to raise awareness and social recognition in communities and civil society, to emphasize the importance of participating in the census. The Government of Guatemala is completing the formalities to implement the loan.

To assure the integrity of the census process, the Latin American Centre for Demography (CELADE), together with the United States Census Bureau (USCensus), has provided support to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), through technical assistance to assure the technical quality of the census. The USCensus will carry out a training program for INE’s technical staff. The UN Population Fund will be responsible for administrative support for the census, including the selection and hiring of census canvassers as well as the procurement activities of the program. UNFPA has extensive experience in census programs in Latin America.

Jump back to top