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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Aug. 22) - French Polynesia's government has this week kick-started its population census, which is expected to last between August 20 and September 15.

For the first time, the census will be conducted as a partnership between local ISPF (French Polynesia's Statistical Institute) and metropolitan INSEE (French National Statistical Institute).

The exercise, which comes at an estimated cost of 250 million French Pacific Francs (CFP, around 2.9 million US dollars), will involve despatching some 665 surveying officers who will be tasked with applying an approved questionnaire to the population.

The challenge is perceived to be enormous, since French Polynesia's five archipelagos are spread out on an area equivalent to that of Europe.

In March this year, latest ISPF statistics showed that French Polynesia's population was nearing 260,000.

The ISPF said the estimated figure (259,800), as at 31 December, 2006, showed a 1.4 per cent increase compared to the 2005 figures.

The institute also estimated that the average life expectancy is 73 for men and 77 for women.

The last census was held five years ago.

Apart from obvious planning purposes, the census figures also have an impact on the French Pacific territory, since it is on the basis of population location that French aid to French Polynesia's municipalities and communes is distributed proportionally to the number of inhabitants.

Meanwhile, in New Caledonia, another French Pacific dependency, latest projections by the local statistical institute have this week put the population at some 312,000 by 2030, which represents an increase of some 34 percent compared to the current figure, with a projected life expectancy of 77.6 years for the male population and 83.3 for women.

The 2030 projections also include a high concentration (220,000) of New Caledonia's population in the affluent Southern Province (South of the main island), of which 200,000 would live in the Greater Nouméa (the capital) area alone.

According to the same projections, in the mean time, New Caledonia's population is expected to pass the 250,000 mark in 2010 and 300,000 in 2026.

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