Doubts Cast on Census Preliminary Results

The preliminary results of the 2002 show that Georgian population shrunk by one million since 1989. According to the preliminary results of the census voiced on January 17-24, there are about 4,4 million people presently living in Georgia. However, independent experts suspect that the census still tends to exaggerate the population figures.

The last census occurred 12 years ago during the Soviet era. 5,458 million people were registered by that time in Georgia. Since 1991 the death rate was raising while the birth rates decreased, life expectancy figures also fell. In addition to mechanical decrease in population, deteriorating living conditions forced many citizens to seek permanent employment abroad or move abroad.

The main doubts are cast on an accuracy of calculating the emigration figures in the preliminary results of the 2002 census. According to the lead agency of the census, State Department of Statistics (SDS), 220 thousand people left Georgia in last 12 years. But the specialists of the Institute of Demography and Polling of the Academy of Sciences say at least a million people emigrated from Georgia in 1990s.

“The preliminary information on 4,4 million people living in Georgia does not sound realistic. The numbers must be much smaller,” Deputy Head of the Institute’s national center of population study Giorgi Meladze states.

He says that besides at least a million of émigrés the population was shrinking due to the variety of the demographic factors. The preliminary figures are even more unbelievable while the present census was not carried out in breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, populations of which were surveyed in 1989.

The doubts are heard that inflated population figures are in the interests of some government representatives, especially the provincial ones. Experts say that the more is the official population, the more budgetary funding and foreign assistance is directed towards the provincial governments.

Head of the SDS Temur Beridze denies such claims, and says it is impossible to invite the third party to verify the census results. According to the law on census passed by the Parliament in October 2001 information in each survey application is confidential.

Beridze says both national and international financial assistance was needed to make the first census in Georgia’s independent history a reality. The preparation process took five years. The Georgian Finance Ministry provided 5 million Lari for the census project and additional 3 millions (approximately USD 1.5 million) are needed for its completion.

The Department of Statistics hopes that the foreign donors would also help to cover the costs. The foreign donors have already granted USD193 thousand to the project.

The final picture of independent Georgia’s demography and population flows is expected to emerge in July 2003. SDS officials say the final figures would not differ from the preliminary ones by more than 3% increment.

By Salome Jashi, Civil Georgia