Timor-Leste gained independence on 20 May 2002. The new government, realizing the importance of having information on population and housing for the entire country, conducted the first post-independence population census in July 2004. The main aim of the 2004 Census of Population and Housing was to provide a wealth of relevant and reliable information at different levels of disaggregation, to be used for several purposes, but especially for development planning.
It is important to emphasize that a population and housing census was essential for Timor-Leste. During and after independence substantial transformations took place, including demographic changes. Previously available data would have been misleading for planning in a new country. Nevertheless, many stakeholders were skeptical about the possibility of conducting a successful census. In spite of the doubts and reservations, the National Statistics Directorate and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) took the challenge.
Indeed, UNFPA organized the necessary technical and human resource support and provided the major part of the funding needed to carry out the census. Since 2002 two UNFPA Census Projects have been supporting census activities. Additional contributions were provided by: Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States.
After long and careful preparations, which included mapping, the elaboration of a questionnaire, a pilot census, the organization of a census administrative structure, training and publicity, the census interviews were conducted for approximately three weeks after the census commencement date (11 July 2004). The census questionnaires had to be answered according to the respondent's location and circumstances on the date designated as the Official Census Date, that is, 11 July 2004.
The census questionnaire designed for households was available in four languages: Tetun, Portuguese, English and Indonesian. Copies of the English, Portuguese and Tetum questionnaires are included in this Website. There were special questionnaires for institutions such as prisons, orphanages, convents and boarding schools, and also one questionnaire for hotels.
It is important to mention that a major question that emerged before the census was, how to ensure a complete enumeration of the population in a country without addresses, street names or a land cadastre. The solution was to use Global Positioning System (GPS) Technology to create an independent database containing the location of every household in Timor-Leste.
GPS is a space-based radio-navigation system which provides users with accurate information about their position, velocity and time, anywhere in the world and in all weather conditions.
A pair of latitude and longitude coordinates, known as a waypoint, was recorded at the doorstep of every dwelling in the country. A sticker with a unique number was placed on both the door of the dwelling occupied by the household and onto the front page of the questionnaire. The number from the sticker was keyed into the GPS receiver at the time the waypoints were recorded and this information was downloaded onto computers at a later stage. During processing the waypoints were combined with the household data on the unit record file. In this way, a rich and powerful dataset that links spatial data with census data was obtained.
Timor-Leste is very proud to claim to be the first country anywhere in the world to base its national census on a GPS survey of 100% of its households.
It is expected that the results of the 2004 Census, the several analyses and dissemination products that are being produced, will be the main confirmation of a very successful census in Timor-Leste. As the country faces the challenges of planning its future development, it is hoped that the census results will bring closer the date when the country will adopt a population policy to ensure that there is a sustainable and harmonious balance between population growth, population distribution, the economy and the environment.