Myanmar (former Burma) is a South-East Asian country, located between Bangladesh and Thailand. Its coastline stretches one third of its total perimeter (1, 930km) along the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. To the North, India, China and Laos are immediate neighbours.
With over 100 minority ethnic languages spoken, Burma is a linguistically diverse country. Burmese is the official language, and Buddhism the predominant religion (89%). The government recognises 135 ethnicities, with major groups including Burman (67%), Shan (9%), Karen (7%) and Rakhine (4%).
Fertility rates are substantially lower than neighbouring South East Asian countries, slightly above replacement level at 2.3 children per woman. This stems from late average age of marriage, the presence of illegal abortions, and high celibacy linked to Buddhist values for spiritual development. The declining birth rate is evident in the population age structure as cohort sizes have correspondingly decreased over the past decade.
This is a positive trend for Myanmar’s development as it reflects a strong labour force and relatively low proportion of dependent minors which will pay a ‘demographic dividend’ in coming years.
Modern day Myanmar was previously incorporated in the Indian Empire under British colonial rule as a province of India. In 1937, it became a separate, self-ruling colony and in 1948 it attained independence from the Commonwealth. A 50 year period of military rule befell the nation seeing ongoing military uprisings and conflict, particularly in rural areas until a new constitution was brought into effect in 2008. Transition to civil rule has since occurred in a series of political and economic reforms.
Natural resources and agriculture form a strong base of the Burmese economy. Major export commodities include clothing, wood products, natural gas, gems, rice, and beans. Manufacturing represents only a 20.3% share of the labour force, largely due to underdeveloped technological know-how and inadequate infrastructure. This sector is expected to rise as Myanmar’s economy continues to recover from conflict-based stagnation.
An estimated 32% of the population live under the $US 1/ day poverty line. Large disparities become apparent when this figure is disaggregated by location, as poverty is almost doubly prevalent in rural areas than urban. Boarder areas, which are heavily populated by ethnic minorities were worst effected by militia and consequently continue to carry a heavier burden of impoverishment.
- Environmental degradation: As agriculture and forestry forms a large national economic base, environmental sustainability is a high priority. Approximately 47% of the landmass is covered by natural forest, but this is rapidly diminishing due to human-induced deforestation for shifting cultivation and firewood plantations. Extreme weather events and climate change also pose a threat as forest fires, landslides and storm surges consistently plague the natural environment.
- Malaria: According to the World Health Organisation, the rate of malaria is 2.4/ 1000 people. This equates to more than 500 000 cases every year, accounting for approximately half of malaria death in all of South East Asia. Significant reductions in mortality have been achieved since insecticide-treated nets (ITN) have been mass distributed in line with millennium development targets. Nevertheless, only 20% of households now have a ITN.
- Education – A high value is placed on education in Myanmar so participation in the primary schooling system is high with literacy rates exceeding 95%. However, the nation’s pursuit of universal primary education has been slow as less than 75% of children complete grade 5. With limited skills, many children turn to the informal economy where they are exposed to abuse, crime and exploitation. Some minors are recruited into the armed forces of various political and guerilla groups despite legislation prohibiting it.
CIA WorldFact Book - https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html
United Nations Population Fund – www.unfpa.org
United nation Development Reports - http://hdr.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/IND
World Health Organisation - http://www.who.int/malaria/publications/country-profiles/profile_mmr_en.pdf?ua=1