Census-like survey begins in Abu Dhabi

Door-to-door approach of Abu Dhabi project will prove 'tremendous tool' for tailoring approach of healthcare providers.

ABU DHABI // A comprehensive, census-like survey beginning in Abu Dhabi today will help health authorities tailor their services to the needs of the community. As part of the Frames Updating Project by the Statistics Centre-Abu Dhabi (Scad), a team of almost 1,000 workers will visit all of the emirate's households and companies to build a database for decision-makers, businesses and researchers.

According to Scad's director general, Butti al Qubaisi, that will prove an "indispensable tool in the formulation of development plans and other economic programmes". The survey will also help health authorities target areas of need, according to Dr Philipp Vetter, the head of strategy at the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi. For instance, when there is an outbreak of a certain disease, being able to link residents to a certain area would be a "tremendous" tool, while knowing people's income and education levels could help in allocating resources.

Certain conditions could also be related to social and economic factors. "Unfortunately, in general if you are poor, you are more likely to be in poor health, and if you are affluent you are more likely to be healthy," said Dr Vettel. "The World Health Organisation says we have the second-highest rate of diabetes in the world," Dr Vetter said. "We need to do something, but what and who we target is a different matter - that's where information that comes from a census helps."

But while the benefits of the project are numerous, there is some disappointment that the same level of data collection will not be repeated throughout the nation. "What investors want to see is demographic data that gives a clear picture of the entire country," said Simon Williams, HSBC's chief economist for the Gulf. "One of the first questions investors always ask about the UAE is the size of the population, the composition, income distribution and a breakdown of age and nationality. It's essential to assess the viability of any investment decision," he said.

The most recent statistics available are from the last national census in 2005. A January study by Masdar Research and Orient Planet showed that a lack of reliable population figures meant that different government bodies and international organisations use different population estimates for the country - sometimes significantly different. Rashed al Suwaidi, the director general of the National Statistics Centre, said the national census for 2010 would be "record-based" - that is, compiled from information from the Ministry of Interior and Emirates Identity Authority rather than a door-to-door survey.

Mr al Suwaidi said the method was "officially scientifically acceptable" and would provide accurate data, but others questioned this assessment. Paul Dyer, a demographics expert at Dubai School of Government, said such a survey ignored the fact that many UAE residents do not have identity cards yet. He added that it would not pick up any illegal residents. "The richer the data you have, the more it helps policy planning and policy development; from policing to health care and infrastructure development, to budgeting for services," he said.

Another advantage of a national census - being able to make comparisons with other countries - would be lost because a different method will be used in the UAE than in the rest of the GCC. @Email:lmorris@thenational.ae