Introduction to Geography of Burma

Burma, the traditional name of a country in southeastern Asia whose official name is Union of Myanmar. It fronts on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea and is bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand. The country's greatest distances are about 1,280 miles (2,060 km) north-south and 580 miles (930 km) east-west. Burma's area is 261,218 square miles (676,552 km2), about the same as that of Texas.

Facts in brief about Myanmar
Capital: Naypyidaw Myodaw.
Official language: Burmese.
Area: 261,228 mi2. (676,578 km2). Greatest distances—north-south, 1,300 mi. (2,090 km); east-west, 580 mi. (930 km). Coastline—1,650 mi (2,655 km).
Elevation: Highest—Hkakabo Razi, 19,296 ft (5,881 m) above sea level. Lowest—sea level.
Population: Current estimate—51,988,000; density, 199 per mi2 (77 per km2); distribution, 69 percent rural, 31 percent urban. 2003 official government estimate—51,660,000.
Chief products: Agriculture—rice, vegetables and fruits, sugar cane, peanuts, sesame seeds, corn, wheat, millet, tobacco, jute, cotton, rubber. Forestry—teak. Manufacturing—fertilizer, processed foods. Mining—coal, natural gas, petroleum, zinc, lead, tin, tungsten, silver, jade, rubies, sapphires.
National anthem: "Kaba Makye" ("Our Free Homeland").
Flag and coat of arms: Myanmar's official flag was adopted in 1974. The flag is red with blue canton in the upper left. A cogwheel and a rice plant surrounded by 14 white stars are in the canton. The cogwheel and rice plant represent industry and agriculture, and the stars represent Myanmar's seven states and seven divisions. Blue symbolizes peace, and red represents courage. The coat of arms has a map of Myanmar in the center. The star at the top stands for independence.
Money: Basic unit—kyat. One hundred pyas equal one kyat.

Physical Geography

Burma consists primarily of a central lowland surrounded by mountains and plateaus. The lowland, which consists mainly of the Irrawaddy, Chindwin, and Sittang river valleys, extends some 700 miles (1,130 km) northward from the Irrawaddy delta. Concentrated here is most of the country's population. Enclosing the central lowland on the west and north are thickly forested mountains, which rise to more than 19,000 feet (5,800 m) in the far north. Rimming the eastern edge of the central lowland and occupying most of east-central Burma is the Shan Plateau, an undulating region that averages 3,000 feet (900 m) in elevation. Much of the plateau is drained by the Salween River, whose course is marked by numerous gorges and rapids.

Most of Burma lies within the tropics, and the low-lying areas have warm weather all year. In Mandalay, for example, average monthly temperatures vary from 68° to 89° F. (20° to 32° C.); in Rangoon, from 77° to 86° F. (25° to 30° C.). The highest temperatures occur in April, just before the summer monsoon rains begin. The rains continue through October, by which time most of the year's total rainfall has been received. Rainfall along most of the coast totals more than 200 inches (5,000 mm) a year, with amounts gradually decreasing toward the interior. In the central lowland around Mandalay and Myingyan is an area known as the Dry Belt, which receives less than 40 inches (1,000 mm) a year.


During 1962–88 Burma had an economy that was based largely on socialist principles. Some private enterprise existed but many of the country's economic resources were nationalized. Also during this period, the government discouraged foreign investment. In 1988 the government began programs designed to encourage foreign investment and to expand private enterprise.

Burma is one of Asia's poorest nations and depends heavily on foreign aid. In the late 1980's, however, many donor countries suspended their aid in disapproval of the Burmese government's abuses of civil rights.

Burma's basic currency unit is the kyat.

About two-thirds of the Burmese people depend on agriculture for a living. Most of the cultivated land is in the deltas of the Irrawaddy and Sittang rivers and is devoted to rice, the nation's chief crop. In central Burma, the main crops include cotton, sugarcane, peas and beans, sesame seeds, wheat, and peanuts. Livestock include cattle, buffaloes, sheep, and chickens. Many of the cattle and buffaloes are used as draft animals. Fishing, both in ocean and inland waters, is of increasing importance.

Dense mountain forests form one of the country's most valuable resources. Hardwoods are the chief products. Burma has more than half of the world's reserves of teak, and teak is the leading export.

Although Burma is rich in minerals, the mining industry is only moderately developed. Enough petroleum is produced to meet most domestic needs. A number of metals and metal ores are mined, including lead, tin, tungsten, silver, and zinc. Gemstones, coal, and natural gas are also produced.

Manufacturing is closely tied to the processing of agricultural and forest products. Of particular importance are rice mills and sawmills, food-processing plants, and oil refineries. Small manufacturing establishments produce much of the food and many of the textiles and household goods used in Burma. The most heavily industrialized region is in the Rangoon-Pegu area.

Railway lines radiate from Rangoon and Mandalay. They extend as far north as Myitkyina and reach nearly to Tavoy in the south. The principal waterways are the Irrawaddy and its major tributary, the Chindwin. The Irrawaddy is navigable for some 900 miles (1,450 km). Rangoon is the country's chief seaport. Burma's roads are generally poor. A government-operated airline serves most Burmese cities; several private carriers operate international routes from the airport near Rangoon.

The People

Burmans, a Mongoloid people, make up about 65 per cent of the population. Of the country's numerous other Mongoloid peoples, the largest groups are the Karens, Shans, Kachins, Chins, and Chinese. There are also a large number of Indians and Pakistanis. The population of Burma in 1992 was estimated at 41,550,000. The population density was about 159 persons per square mile (61 per km2). Rangoon, the capital, and Mandalay are the largest cities, with populations in 1983 of 2,458,712 and 532,895 respectively.

Buddhism of the Theravada branch is the religion of about 85 per cent of the population. Other religions are Islam, Christianity, and animism.

Burma's educational system deteriorated under the country's military dictatorship. Public education is free, but access to schools in rural areas is restricted. Many teachers have been imprisoned. Once well-regarded universities such as the University of Mandalay (established in 1925) and the University of Rangoon (1920) have been closed for extended periods of time since 1988.

About 20 per cent of the Burmese men and women can read and write. The Burmese language is related to that of Tibet.


Burma is a union of seven states. The country is ruled by a military junta called the State Peace and Development Council (formerly called the State Law and Order Restoration Council). The chairman of the junta is both head of state and prime minister (head of government).