Speaking at a press conference, Sheikha Lubna al-Qasimi, the minister of economy, told local reporters that "the national census represents an essential part of the comprehensive development process". She added that it would provide a comprehensive database that will assist in conducting studies and research for various development plans.
The census, which occurs every 10 years, was carried out on December 6, 2005, to internationally recognised standards using the "de jure" method, which counts individuals as per their permanent place of residence. It included all nationals as well as non-nationals who reside in the UAE on a residency visa. It also took account of nationals who work abroad.
According to these new findings, the current population of the UAE is 3,769,080 which represents a population growth rate of 74.8% from the last census carried out in 1995. However, this does not take account of non-nationals who were not present during the census fieldwork period and those with invalid residency visas. This number is estimated to be 335,615 providing an overall population figure for the UAE, excluding visitors, of 4,104,695. The largest emirate by population is Abu Dhabi with 1,292,119 people.
Although current population growth rates were not calculated, Sheikha Lubna said that there was a belief that population growth was healthy and matched levels achieved in neighbouring countries. It is also evident that the figures reflect a relatively young population, with more than 50% of nationals under 20 years old and only 1.8% of nationals over the age of 50.
The census illustrates the large impact of non-nationals on the demographic balance of the UAE. Non-nationals make up 79.9% of the total population. There were also a large number of visitors to the UAE in 2005 representing between 12.3 and 15.7% of the population at any one time. The overall number of visitors in 2005 was 8,031,782 which was a 16.8% increase on 2004.
Sheikha Lubna argued that this demography reflects the strong economic growth that the UAE has experienced stating that the UAE has been successful in accommodating this human capital in order to facilitate strong growth and development. As such, the large number of non-nationals is not surprising and reflects the government's policy of drawing on outside expertise and human capital to strengthen the economic position of the country.
The new findings also chart the number of buildings and housing units in the UAE showing that there are 336,815 buildings and 863,860 housing units in the country, the largest concentration being in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Such figures suggest a shortage of housing availability, however, Sheikha Lubna was eager to point out that this figure only took account of buildings that are completed and utilised. It does not presently take account of buildings under construction in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The figure is likely to be recalculated at a later date to take account of this fact.
It is evident that the census is seen as a cornerstone of key government initiatives, particularly relating to the labour market and Emiratisation. The new statistics will help government departments to undertake more focused research and address the issues of employment and development from a solid statistical base.
Sheikha Lubna told the assembled press that the census will be used strategically "to sponsor legislation, by-laws and programmes consistent with the current state and various inherent changes in the demographic, economic and social characteristics of the country". Specifically it will be used, "to draft policies related to the country's labour market based on estimates of the volume of manpower and the nature of its economic activity", which will help to "develop a national strategy to advance UAE human resources and qualifications to enter the job market based on such data".
As part of this process, the census was used to gauge the educational level of all nationals and non-nationals. The illiteracy rate amongst nationals of 8.8% was approximately the same as that of non-nationals (9%). According to Sheikha Lubna, this figure is not of particular concern. There has been a dramatic increase in literacy from the last census when the estimated illiteracy rate, according to UNESCO, was 20.8%. However, the current census highlights that 54.7% of nationals do not complete secondary school. Yet of those who do, over a third attend university, with 13.6% of nationals going on to higher education.
Sheikha Lubna told OBG that the census is the result of the co-ordination of the statistical centres in Abu Dhabi and Dubai as well as the northern emirates. She continued, stating that from September onwards, the ministry will start the complex process of data-mining in consultation with several experts and research institutions. The ministry is hoping that this will lead to the production of more focused reports on the labour force and household budgets as well as provide an environmental survey.
The census is seen as part of wider attempts to provide transparent and easily accessible data on the country at a federal level. This will not only help in the creation of government strategy but will also benefit investors who will be able to access relevant information more efficiently allowing them to make better informed decisions. The 2005 census is therefore an important step in providing the tools for the government's strategic planning and its desire to encourage further economic growth.