Fast facts on Burma

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Karen News (

The Population

  • Burma has an estimated population of 55 million people, though no official census has been taken since 1983.
  • The majority of Burma’s people are ethnic Burmans, and other ethnic groups (including Shans, Karens, Mon, Arakan, Chin and Kachins) add up to some 30 percent of the population. Ethnic minorities are dominant in border and mountainous areas including: Shan in the north and northeast (Thai and Laos borders), Karen in the southeast (Thai border), and Kachin in the far north (China border). The military regime has historically suppressed ethnic groups wanting rights and autonomy.
  • According to The Border Consortium, as of July 2013, there were a total of 120,476 refugees living in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border.
  • In addition to refugees, there are another 450,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Burma. Of those living in refugee camps in Thailand, only 52% are registered with UNHCR. Over 84,000 people have departed for third countries since resettlement was opened for the camp populations in 2005, but only the registered refugee population is eligible to apply.
  • According to UNHCR, this year (January-December 2013) the number of IDP’s in Burma grew by almost 21,000 (from 429,000 to 450,000). Many of these are from conflict-affected areas like Kachin State and the communal violence in Rakhine State between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists.
  • Over 2 million people from Burma live as migrant workers in Thailand (the vast majority as illegal migrants)Though it is now easier for migrant workers to get passports and work permits than it was in the past, many workers are illegal, making it difficult for them to access services in Thailand including health care.
  • None of the countries harboring large refugee populations from Burma have signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. In fact, several have changed their policies, at the cost of the rights of asylum seekers, in order to cultivate better relations with the Burmese government.

The Government

  • In 2011, Burma’s military junta was dissolved following a general election in 2010 in which a quasi-civilian government was installed. While the military still has a strong influence in the country, Burma has begun to implement political reforms. The release of democracy activist and leader of the opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi, along with many other political prisoners has improved the country’s human rights record and foreign relations, leading to the easing of trade and other economic sanctions imposed by some foreign governments. However, the military is still politically dominant and continues to act with impunity in ethnic areas.
  • Pushes for democracy in 1988 and 2007 have been brutally repressed.
  • The junta denounced the results of democratic elections in 1990, won by the National League for Democracy (NLD).
  • The 2008 constitution guarantees 25% of seats in Parliament to the Military and prevents Aung San Suu Kyi from being elected as leader of the country.
  • According to Transparency International, Burma ranked 157 out of 177 countries in terms of perceived corruption. The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries/territories based on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be. It is a composite index, drawing on corruption-related data from expert and business surveys carried out by a variety of independent and reputable institutions.

Human Rights Violations

  • The UN special rapporteur on Burma documented that the Burmese military continues to unlawfully confiscate land, displace villagers, demand forced labour, and use violence (including rape, torture, and murder) against those who protest such brutality.
  • During the past 10 years, the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) has reported the summary execution of 1,885 civilians in Shan State alone.
  • More than 75,000 Burmese have been displaced for hydroelectric dam projects.
  • In 2006, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Human Development Index, which measures achievements in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment, and adjusted real income, ranked Burma 130 out of 177 countries.
  • The World Health Organization ranked Burma’s health sector 190 out of 191 countries.
  • The majority of Burmese citizens subsist on an average annual income of less than $200 US per capita.
  • In Burma the average household expenditure on food is nearly 70 percent. This compares unfavourably with its neighbours: 59 percent in Indonesia, 57 percent in Bangladesh and 32 percent in Thailand. This is a significant indicator of food insecurity and poverty level of households.


  • In 2013, Burma’s government spent 3.9% of the country’s total budget on health care. In contrast it spent over 20% on the military.
  • A 2012 article in the Lancet cited health indicators for Burma. Life expectancy is 56 years, 40% of all children under the age of 5 are moderately stunted, and Burma has more than 50% of all malaria-related deaths in Southeast Asia. This is in part due to poor diagnosis and treatment, but also to the widespread prevalence of counterfeit anti-malarial medication.
  • Although the majority of Burma’s population lives in rural areas, most health services continue to be concentrated in larger towns and cities. For example, according to a 2012 annual report published by the Burma Ministry of Health, rural health centers have only increased from 1,337 to 1,565 since 1988.
    According to the Burma Ministry of Health, the country had 28,077 doctors nationwide in 2011, but 16,617 are concentrated in the private sector.
  • Across Eastern Burma: ◦ the infant mortality rate is 91 deaths for every 1000, compared to an average rate of 76 for the rest of Burma (and only 18 in neighbouring Thailand).
    • one in five children die before their fifth birthday.
    • one in twelve women die during childbirth (a rate four times higher than the national average).
  • Malnutrition levels among children are over 15 percent.
  • Malaria infection rate is over 12 percent at any given time.
  • HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria are considered epidemics.
  • Local understanding of sanitation and hygiene remains low, as does access to clean water and basic sanitation facilities such as latrines. This naturally leads to high levels of associated diseases such cholera and diarrhoea, among others diseases.
  • A great number of deaths are preventable.


  • Access to education is compromised by lack of accessible schools, poverty, war, displacement, and low wages for teachers.
  • The most up-to-date information from UNICEF reported that only around fifty percent of children achieve secondary education in Burma.
  • Education is supposed to be provided free of charge, but teachers wages are so low that they are forced to charge school fees, or find work elsewhere.
  • University professors are restricted in freedom of speech, political activity, and publications.

The Military

  • There are currently 30 ethnic armies in operation, 18 of which have signed cease-fire agreements with the government.
  • In 1988 there were approximately 200,000 men serving in the Tatmadaw (government military), in 2013 estimates are nearing 500,000 troops.
  • In 2002, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a research study entitled “My Gun Was as Tall as Me.” This report indicates that at this time there were around 70,000 children in the 350,000 strong SPDC armed forces. According to these statistics; one in five soldiers of the SPDC armed forces is a child.
  • A 2013 report in CNN stated that recruiters of Child Soldiers were still active and that according to analysis from risk analysis company Maplecroft, Myanmar still ranks number 8 on the global index, where its use of child soldiers is considered “extreme.”
  • The use of landmines:
    • In addition to Burma’s government, many other armed groups in Burma either use, manufacture or stockpile AP mines and/or victim-activated Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
    • According to the Landmine Monitor 2006, mines contaminate at least nine out of 14 states and divisions in the country, and the number of casualties is increasing every year.
    • A 2011 report conducted by the humanitarian organisation Geneva Call estimated that 5.2 million people live in areas contaminated by landmines in Burma. Most of these are in Eastern Burma, including Karen State.
    • According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), in 2011 there were 381 documented casualties from land mines. With many incidents occurring in isolated jungle areas, the ICBL noted that the actual number of casualties could be much higher. The ICBL also stated in the report that land mines were still being used by Myanmar’s military and armed groups.
    • No humanitarian mine clearance programmes exist in Burma/Myanmar.
    • The Thai military asserts that most–perhaps 70 percent–of its 2,000 kilometre border with Burma is mined.

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