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Geography and Climate

Myanmar spans 676,578 square kilometres. It is nestled between China, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Bangladesh, India, and Thailand. The Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea form the 2,832-kilometre southern boundary from the Kra Isthmus (with Thailand) to the border with Bangladesh. The country is generally divided into seven main regions: the Northern Hills, the Western Hills, the Rakhine Coast in the southwest, the Shan Plateau in the east, the Central Belt, the Lower Ayeyarwady Delta, and the Tanintharyi Coast in the south. Administratively, Myanmar contains 14 states and divisions. States are designated for the main ethnic groups, while the divisions correspond to the majority Bamar people.
The terrain varies extensively throughout the country, with snow-capped mountains in the north to the vast flatlands in the central region. Most of the country's perimeter is comprised of mountains and hills, which often make travel and communication in those regions extremely difficult. The three main mountain ranges found in the western, central, and eastern regions all run in a northsouth direction, and as a result the extensive river system in the country tends to follow a similar longitudinal pattern. The country's longest river is the Ayeyarwady, which stretches 2,170 kilometres.
Myanmar is a tropical country with three distinct seasons, although some regional variations do occur. The dry season runs from mid-February to mid-May, but in the central region the dry season often extends into what is for the rest of the country the rainy period. The wet season begins in mid- May and lasts until mid-October, when the cool season commences. Rainfall varies widely throughout Myanmar, with an average of 250 centimetres annually in the coastal and delta regions compared to only 70 centimetres in the central area.

History and Culture

Myanmar civilization traces its roots back as early as the 5th century. The first major Myanmar kingdom was Bagan, founded in the 11th century and lasting until the Mongol invasion in the late 13th century. Bagan represents the pinnacle of ancient Myanmar civilization in a number of ways, including engineering, science, Buddhism, and architecture. The legacy of Bagan can be seen today in the thousands of pagodas that still stand.
Several kingdoms followed Bagan such as Bago and Ava (near Mandalay) until the British consolidated their control and abolished the monarchy in 1885. From that point until World War I, Myanmar was ruled as a part of the British Indian Empire.
In the early decades of the 20th century a strong nationalist movement emerged in Myanmar led by General Aung San. During World War II, the nationalists sent a group known as the Thirty Comrades to Japan for training and returned in 1942 with the invading Japanese army to lead the Myanmar Independence Army. Not long after the Japanese occupation began, the Thirty Comrades formed the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL) to resist the Japanese and eventually secure the country's independence in 1948.
Myanmar had a democratic government between 1948 and 1962, but throughout this period a number of rebellions by communist and ethnic groups broke out. After being invited by Prime Minister U Nu to serve as a temporary caretaker government between 1958 and 1960, the military enacted a coup d'etat in 1962 as the country was on the verge of collapse from the rebellions. General Ne Win led the military government for nearly three decades and instituted a socialist state.
The Burma Socialist Programme Party administered the state through its ideology known as the Burmese Way to Socialism.
In 1988 the socialist policies were abandoned when a new military regime called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) took over the government. The military leaders renamed SLORC as the State Peace and Development Council in 1997.
Myanmar has a rich and diverse culture that is still well preserved. Traditional clothing, dance, and music are common throughout the country, and the Myanmar people have not lost their deep Buddhist beliefs which play an integral part of daily life. Pagodas can be seen throughout the country, from Yangon's commercial district to the most remote mountain sides upcountry.


Myanmar contains a diverse population of over 48 million people and 135 different ethnic groups. Over 69 percent of the population is ethnic Bamar, and these people tend to inhabit the lowlands.
Many of the ethnic groups live in highlands around the perimeter of the country and bordering Bangladesh, India, China, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, and Thailand. The major ethnic groups are Kachin, Kayah, Kayin (Karen), Chin, Mon, Rakhine, and Shan. Over 75 percent of the population live in rural areas.
Myanmar is predominantly a Buddhist country (85 percent of the population), but certain ethnic groups, most notably along the border with Bangladesh, are Muslim. Christianity is also present among both the majority Bamar and some minorities such as the Chin and Kachin, while the Indian population tends to be Muslim or Hindu.
The central Myanmar language is used in business and administration, but with so many ethnic groups in the country, dozens of languages can be heard throughout the country. English is also widely spoken because of the British colonial legacy and its increasing use in Myanmar schools.


Due to its diverse population, numerous languages are spoken throughout Myanmar. The principle, and national language, is Myanmar, but English is also widely used in business and administration. At the local level the numerous ethnic groups tend to have their own languages. 


From 1962 to 1988 Myanmar had a socialist economy. Elements of modern socialism in Myanmar date back to the 1930s, but a socialist form of economic system took shape in the early 1960s when the military, led by General Ne Win, assumed political and administrative control. The socialist era featured state-owned enterprises and government initiated cooperatives with an orientation towards import substitution. The private sector continued to function during this period, albeit under many restrictions. As a result of the socialist policies and the country's overall isolation from international matters, private manufacturers did not produce for export except for a few industries.
Once considered one of the wealthiest South-East Asian countries, Myanmar's economic problems hit rock bottom in 1987. The country was designated as one of the Least Developed Nations by the United Nations General Assembly. By the late 1980s the Myanmar economy was in tatters due to the low productivity and inefficiency of state-owned enterprises, low levels of skill, and a shortage of capital and technology.
In response to the severe economic crisis and domestic unrest, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) took the reins of government in 1988 and embarked on a new course for the economy. SLORC reversed many of the socialist era policies and implemented several economic reforms, including new laws, regulations, operating methods, and reorganization of government agencies in an effort to utilize market principles to jumpstart the sluggish economy.
The reform programme since 1988 has had a major impact on most sectors of the economy. The new economic environment enabled entrepreneurs to start up their own businesses instead of working for state-owned enterprises or cooperatives. However, the structure of Myanmar's present economy has changed very little compared to the pre-independence years (before 1948).
Agriculture dominated the economy and employed over 66 percent of the workforce in 1931, but by the late 1990s, the percentage of workers in the agriculture sector had dropped to around 56 percent. Agriculture is considered the base of the economy around which other sectors are expected to develop, but the government is also trying to promote a variety of industries such as tourism, mining, construction, and forestry.


Myanmar has had a federal union structure since independence in 1948, although the type of government has changed on a few occasions. Myanmar had multiparty democracy after independence until the country nearly collapsed from civil war in the 1950s. After a brief interlude in which the military was invited to serve as a caretaker in the late 1950s, civil strife resumed until the military decided to take control in 1962. Under the leadership of General Ne Win, the military established an isolated, single -party socialist state led by the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), which held power until 1988.
With the economy in turmoil, the State Law and Order Restoration Council took on the responsibility of the government in late 1988. The new leadership abolished many of the socialist policies and began Myanmar reintegration into the rest of the world. In 1997, SLORC changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), which is comprised of 19 top military leaders. The current government has 31 ministries with 36 ministers.
The judicial system is based on the common law system inherited from British colonial era, but it also contains elements of a civil system as well.

Natural Resources

Myanmar is richly endowed with a wide variety of natural resources. Forests are one of its most precious resources, particularly teak trees, and altogether the country has over 2,300 species of trees. Forests cover approximately half of Myanmar, making it one of the country's most important economic sectors. Myanmar possesses around 80 percent of the world's teak forests, with over 15 million acres of the highly sought after hardwood. Annual teak production capacity can reach 0.6 million cubic meters, but typically nearly 29,000 tons are produced annually.
Numerous minerals are found in Myanmar such as gold, copper, zinc, granite, iron, nickel, and several types of gems. The Ministry of Mines oversees all mining activities, and investors are required to enter into joint ventures with the Ministry's state-owned enterprises.
Oil and natural gas are also present in the Andaman Sea and have attracted several international oil and gas companies. The major gas field, Yadana, has a pipeline connecting with Thailand. Myanmar is estimated to have 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Human Resources

Myanmar had 22.5 million people in the workforce in 1997-98. Nearly 14 million were men and 8.6 million were women. Between 55 and 60 percent of the workers are employed in the agriculture sector, followed by nearly 16 per cent in the retail, restaurant, and hotel sectors.
Manufacturing is the third largest employer, taking in over 11 percent of all workers. Eighty-five percent of the population over 15 years old is literate, but the education system in Myanmar has not been working optimally for many years, particularly at the higher education level. Nonetheless, the Myanmar people exhibit a thirst for learning and acquiring new skills, and possess many similar characteristics to the famed Vietnamese workforce such as a willingness to work hard, acquire new skills quickly, and discipline.
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