St Helena Island in final preparations for the 2016 Census


  • Author: Paula McLeod
  • Date: 02 Feb 2016
  • Copyright: Image appears courtesy of Paula McLeod

St Helena Island, a British Overseas Territory, is in the final stages of preparations to conduct a Population and Housing Census on Sunday 7th February 2016. With the Island’s airport scheduled to open at the end of February 2016 the Census has been timed to capture the last pre-air-access snapshot of the island and her people. The 16 x 8 Km rocky outcrop in the South Atlantic Ocean is situated at 15o56’S, 5o43’W, only accessible by sea since its discovery in 1502. With the option of air travel journey times to the nearest mainland will be reduced from five days to five hours. Travel for islanders (known as Saints) and tourists alike will become much easier and more frequent and is likely to result in significant changes in the population.

thumbnail image: St Helena Island in final preparations for the 2016 Census

With an estimated population of around 4,600 you could be forgiven for thinking the process of conducting a Census on St Helena should be fairly straightforward. However, with no address system or comprehensive administrative registers there are some fundamental systems to be set in place before a reliable count can be made.

Using a recent satellite image, GIS mapping, utilities bills and local knowledge the Statistics team are cross referencing all available information to develop a “first pass” at a housing frame for the island. Once we have the housing frame we will be able to deliver the Census questionnaire to every household, some only accessible by 4 wheel drive vehicle, a number only accessible on foot (with a bit of a climb).

The cross referencing is made more interesting by the variety of names in use. Many people are known by nicknames and some families are also known by nicknames. Using multiple sources Statistics Officers carry out a careful triangulation and verification exercise asking the key questions “Who lives in this house?” “What is this person’s real name” and then checking against any available administrative source(s) that provide an indication of occupiers of the dwelling in question.

Significant progress on the Housing Frame has already been made as a part of the Census operations, between the 30th January and 14th February, a team of 30 enumerators will be responsible for the final checks and corrections. This will leave the island with a comprehensive, geo-referenced housing list which can be maintained and developed in the future.

The Census questionnaire was developed following an extensive on-island and international consultation exercise and has been designed to collect essential information on a small island community at a critical time in their development. In addition to core information on housing, living conditions, demographics and employment questions are included aimed to provide information on the levels of overseas travel and importance of overseas employment to the island.

The last population Census, completed in 2008, showed a population in decline. Outwards migration, fuelled by the necessity to seek employment overseas- primarily on the Ascension and Falkland Islands, had left a vulnerable population behind- aging, with a decreasing number of children and little hope of recovery. This provided vital supporting evidence for the need for a game changing solution for St Helena which came in the form of an airport, which is now scheduled for official opening in May 2016. This investment from the UK government’s Department for international Development (DfID) will reduce the reliance of the Island on overseas aid by driving economic growth fuelled by sustainable tourism, focused on St Helena’s unique marine and terrestrial environments and cultural heritage.

The Census will provide a snapshot of the Island but that is only half of the picture, we need to know about those people who are overseas and count themselves as Saints because they have as much to play in the Island’s development as those currently on island. For these people to be properly represented in planning and decision making we need to have data which includes them.

Sustainable development of the Island as much about social development and sustainable population growth as it is about improved economic fortunes. Since construction of the airport began in 2012 there has been an estimated 10 per cent increase in the population, driven primarily by St Helenians returning to live and work on the island. The 2016 Census will provide vital detail on the characteristics of this increase in particular the current age-dependency ratio and the split between child- and aged-dependency.

The St Helenian community extends far beyond the Island itself which is why the Census is being accompanied by an overseas survey to capture the characteristics of Islanders, known as Saints. St Helena needs to develop to meet the needs of the people on-island and also of those who may be returning in the future. With the improved options and opportunities which will become available it is expected that many people who are currently living and working overseas will find it easier to return to establish their lives on Island. The Census will provide a snapshot of the Island but that is only half of the picture, we need to know about those people who are overseas and count themselves as Saints because they have as much to play in the Island’s development as those currently on island. For these people to be properly represented in planning and decision making we need to have data which includes them.

The 2016 Census will be the first on St Helena to offer an option for online completion. This is an exciting precedent to set for data collection on the island- to be able to demonstrate that online collection works and that it can be easier and more effective than traditional paper returns will hopefully encourage a far greater uptake of online solutions in the future. Expert overseas support was required to make this vision a reality. This came in the form of Matthew Seymour of Simbahosting UK who provided remote support to St Helena in the development and implementation of the online platform.

Over the coming months the small team of the St Helena Statistics Office will be endeavouring to provide quality updates to key information on the Population and Housing conditions on St Helena in the shortest possible time-frame. Census outputs are always eagerly awaited and this is very much the case on a small island where much has changed in a short period of time, and many more significant changes lie ahead.

Interesting notes:

A British Territory with a South African Influence

St Helena’s airport was constructed by South African company Basil Read. Even with the majority of heavy construction works complete Basil Read staff are likely to represent the largest South African population since the 1901 Census when the island housed close to 6,000 Boer Prisoners of War.

Cost of connection on St Helena:

The islands connection to the outside world is limited not just physically. With one of the World’s slowest and most expensive broadband internet services it will not be surprising to hear that St Helena is trailing behind many other places in terms of embracing the digital era. The speed and affordability of broadband internet services on St Helena have improved considerably in recent years due to the commitment of service provider, Sure South Atlantic, to increasing the number of households who are able to access internet services. As of January 2016 the premium broadband package on St Helena costs £87.50 a month for a 6.5Gb, 1.5Mb/s connection. With median income from employment at a little over £7,000 a year this is unaffordable to the vast majority of St Helenian families. Cheaper packages are available with a Bronze option costing £21.66 a month for a 1.2Gb, 512 Kb/s connection.


St Helena Statistics Office:
St Helena Airport Project:
Visit St Helena:

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