Myanmar Encyclopedia

Since 1989, official name of the state traditionally known as Burma, located in Southeast Asia, on the western side of Indochina. To the NW it borders with Bangladesh and India, to the NE with China, to the East with Laos and to the SE with Thailand, while to the West and S it overlooks the Indian Ocean for about 2500 km.

  1. Physical characteristics

The territory is made up of three longitudinal geological-morphological bands: the Patkai, Rongklang and Arakan chains, culminating in the Hkakabo Razi at 5881 m and sloping down to the Irrawaddy delta and the Bay of Bengal; the central alluvial plains (formed by the Irrawaddy and Sittang rivers), in the southern part divided by low mountains (below 1500 m); the Shan plateau (1200-2000 m), marked by a dense network of watercourses, which to the North joins the Kachin heights, while to the South the Salween plain separates it from the highlands of Tenasserim, which form the Malay Peninsula.

  • The monsoon climate is affected by this morphology, with maximum rainfall on the SW side of the Arakan and Tenasserim (5000 mm from June to October), and a minimum of 1000 mm in the internal basins. Similarly, the temperature is influenced by humidity in the coastal and especially deltaic areas (with maximums in Yangon, 26 ° C; Moulmein, 24 ° C), while in the interior it reaches 30 ° C; winter marks 8 ° C in the N mountains and 24 ° C on the coast. Variegated forests (temperate above 2000 m, tropical evergreen at lower altitudes, but with no less than 2000 mm of rain per year), savannahs and amphibious plant formations along the coasts constitute the original vegetation. The fauna includes large mammals such as the tiger, the leopard, the Tibetan bear, the Indian elephant, the wild buffalo.
  1. Population

Among the 135 ethnic groups recognized in Myanmar, the Burmese proper are 65%, and live in the lowlands mixed with Chinese (3%) and Indian (2%) minorities; the Karen, Kachin and Chin minorities (in total, about 10%) also belong to their same group (the Sino-Tibetan one); the Shan (about 8%) of the homonymous plateau belong to the Thai-Kaday group; Austro-Asian groups (Mon, Palaung and Wa) are scattered in isolated areas.

  • The official language is Burmese; English is widely used. 90% of the population practices Theravada Buddhism.
  • M. was mainly populated by migratory flows of northern origin: first from Assam, then from the Chinese and Tibetan area (Karen, Chin, Kachin, Burmese, Shan). Many of these immigrants stopped in highlands, barely penetrating the flood-prone plains. Over time, especially the Burmese have proceeded to colonize the low-lying areas, reaching considerable densities (even 200 residents /km 2). The population more than quintupled in the 20th century. The birth rate, moreover, was greatly reduced by the government’s demographic policies (it fell below 20 ‰), against a still high death rate (above 12 ‰) and strong emigration (0.2%): there was a sharp slowdown in growth (between 0.50 and 0.70%).
  • M. is still a highly rural country, with an urbanization rate that most likely is around 30%. Cities have only recently developed around political-religious centers. In the mountains, the population tends to cluster in villages, while the plains are characterized by scattered forms of settlement. The different ethnic groups have different traditions, both for the structure of the houses and for the materials used in the construction. The main cities are Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the capital until 2006, which in the same year had 5.5 million residents. in the entire urban agglomeration ; Mandalay, which reaches about 2.5 million residents; and another ten urban centers, all with over 100,000 residents, concentrated in the coastal plains and in the major river valleys.
  1. Economic conditions

A country traditionally dedicated to the cultivation of rice, Myanmar has for long periods based its prosperity on huge exports of this cereal. Since the achievement of independence (1948), but especially since the 1960s, the country it has initiated a new economic policy, with attempts at land collectivization and industrialization that have been frustrated by the scarcity of capital, infrastructure and human resources. Waste and errors in managing the transition have worsened agricultural productivity and living conditions in the countryside. Similar measures and similar results have affected the secondary and tertiary sectors. A new phase, which developed in the last twenty years of the 20th century. and centered on the exploitation of oil, mineral and forestry resources entrusted to multinational companies, briefly increased the influx of investments, but without significant improvements for the population. The control exercised over the economy by the armed forces, strongly reiterated since 1999, and the government’s authoritarian policies (especially after the suppression of protests in 2007) have prompted many countries and organizations (including the European Union) to impose sanctions and restrictions on trade with Myanmar China and India are trying to increase their presence. The country, with a nominal gross domestic product per capita estimated at around $ 220 (2008), growth of less than 4%, and inflation over 30%, would be the poorest in Asia, and one of the poorest in Asia. whole world. Corruption, smuggling and the black market afflict the economic and administrative system, with serious effects for the population.

  • Rice occupies 60% of the agricultural area and plays a primary, albeit unmeasured, role in the economy of Myanmar. It is estimated that in the early 21st century. between 60 and 70% of the workforce was still employed in rural activities and produced about 42% of the gross domestic product, growing cereals and industrial plants (cotton, peanuts, tobacco, sugar cane, rubber trees) and harvesting precious woods (teak and pinkado), whose weight in the real economy is probably much greater than what has been ascertained (100-200 thousand tons per year). Breeding is limited (over 15 million cattle, including buffaloes; more than 3 million pigs); great is the food importance of fishing. Opium production is large, perhaps 8% of the world crop. Industries, growing, they presumably produce 20% of the gross domestic product employing less than 10% of the workforce. Among them, the extractive ones are particularly noteworthy (the exploitation of subsoil resources, in particular hydrocarbons, metals, precious stones), but the agri-food and textile processing activities are even more developed.
  • Fundamental, in the transport and communications sector, is the river system centered on the Irrawaddi. Yangon is the main port and the only international airport. The railway network does not reach 4000 km, and is not sufficiently substituted by the road one, consisting of only 27,000 km almost totally unpaved.

Myanmar Encyclopedia