Nepal census undercounted 800k

The country’s population is on the move, and the 2021 census missed out on a whole lot of them


Nepal’s National Statistics Office on Wednesday admitted that the census conducted two years ago missed 771,998 people, but demographers say the error could be much higher because it did not include all students, workers and those in the diaspora.

The NSO’s Post Enumeration Survey reported that 2.58% of the population was omitted during the census due to errors in data collection. The survey estimated that 2.95% of the urban population was not counted, with the omission rate in Kathmandu Valley even higher at 4.42%. More than 4% of the above 80 age group were also left out.

The survey results were released even as experts expressed concerns over data discrepancy, despite the 2021 national headcount being touted as the most accurate by the NSO.

The inaccuracy appears to be mainly due to Nepal’s highly mobile population and migration. The census put the country’s absentee population at 2.1 million, but this is a gross underestimate as it did not include Nepalis in India and students in Australia, Japan or Canada. On the other hand, the study showed that 0.15% of the population was double counted. 

The NSO’s Deputy Director General Hemraj Regmi explained that the 2.58% error rate had actually decreased since the 2011 census and was at par with international standards that accept a margin of error of up to 5%. 

The 2021 census report published in March put Nepal’s population at 29,164,578, with an annual growth rate of 0.92%. But adding the missing head count would bring the total population to 29,936,576.

The Post Enumeration Survey of the National Population and Household Census 2021 was carried out last year by the Labour Studies Programme at Tribhuvan University to double check the tally.

Even without the discrepancy, the 2021 census results showed a slowdown in the annual population growth rate and total fertility rate. Nepal’s population pyramid now shows fewer children, a wider youth bulge, and greater numbers of elderly. The new data increases the total number of ethnic communities to 142, the total mother tongues spoken to 124, and major religions constant at 10.

Regmi told Nepali Times his office will continue to use data from the officially published census report, explaining: “There are no systems in place and no practice of adjusting population to show an increase or decrease in census data. However, the missing population will be considered and encompassed into all future national planning projects.”

Prior to releasing the detailed report on ethnicities, languages, and religions, the National Statistics Office admitted it had difficulty in classifying caste, religion and language accurately because many respondents claimed to belong to a previously unknown caste and religion. 

Since the release of Nepal’s 2021 census data on ethnicities, languages, and religions, Hindu nationalists, royalists and anti-secularists have been raising a fuss because the number of people who say Nepali is their mother tongue and that they are Hindus has marginally declined from past censuses.

It is clear from the census data that Nepal's social demographic data reflects its diversity, but not its socio-political makeup.

Shristi Karki


Shristi Karki is a correspondent with Nepali Times. She joined Nepali Times as an intern in 2020, becoming a part of the newsroom full-time after graduating from Kathmandu University School of Arts. Karki has reported on politics, current affairs, art and culture.

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