Fast Facts

Population:
50,519,000
Capital:
Nay Pyi Taw
Area:
676,552 square kilometers (261,218 square miles)
Language:
Burmese, minor languages
Religion:
Buddhist, Christian, Muslim
Currency:
Kyat
Life Expectancy:
57
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $1,700
Literacy Percent:
83
Flag: Myanmar
Map: Myanmar

In 1989 the largest nation of mainland Southeast Asia changed its name from Burma to Myanmar. In 2006 the capital moved from Yangon (formerly Rangoon) to Nay Pyi Taw. Geographically, the country's Irrawaddy basin is surrounded on three sides by densely forested mountains and plateaus. Most people live in the fertile valley and delta of the Irrawaddy River.

The majority of Myanmar's people are ethnic Burmans, and other ethnic groups (including Shans, Karens, and Kachins) add up to some 30 percent of the population. Ethnic minorities are dominant in border and mountainous areas: Shan in the north and northeast (Indian and Thai borders), Karen in the southeast (Thai border), and Kachin in the far north (Chinese border). The military regime has brutally suppressed ethnic groups wanting rights and autonomy, and many ethnic insurgencies operate against it.

Independence from Britain in 1948 was followed by isolationism and socialism. Military governments have ruled Myanmar since 1962 and have been accused of corruption, heroin trafficking, and human rights violations—including forcible relocation of civilians and use of forced labor. In 1988 military forces killed more than a thousand pro-democracy demonstrators. In 1990 national elections were held for parliament, but the military refused to recognize the results. Myanmar is a resource-rich country with a strong agricultural base, and is a leading producer of gems, jade, and teak. However, military rule prevents the economy from developing, and the Burmese people remain poor and are getting poorer.

In May 2008, Tropical Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar, destroying villages and wiping out vast tracts of rice fields. More than 20,000 people were killed and up to a million were left homeless, according to Myanmar officials.

ECONOMY

  • Industry: Agricultural processing; knit and woven apparel; wood and wood products; copper, tin, tungsten, iron, gems, jade
  • Agriculture: Rice, pulses, beans, sesame; hardwood (teak); fish
  • Exports: Gas, wood products, pulses, beans, fish, rice

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

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