SHARING BORDERS with Bangladesh, India, Tibet/China, Laos and Thailand, Burma is located at the junction of South and Southeast Asia. In October 2002, Himal carried a special focus on Burma and its role in South Asia. In this profile, with inputs provided by Burma Alert bulletin, Himal presents a statistical comparison of Burma and its neighbours.
As a rule, statistical data about Burma are unreliable. However, this comparison is made with recently released intelligence data, which provide a consistent basis for drawing comparisons between Burma and the other countries. Vietnam is included here because many economists like to compare Burma with Vietnam, says Burma Alert.
In the following tables, countries are represented by two-letter abbreviations: BA (Bangladesh), BR (Burma), LA (Laos), TH (Thailand), MA (Malaysia) and VN (Vietnam). Among the countries compared, Burma is the largest, followed by Thailand, which has more arable land.
The land (Area – thousands of sq km)
In terms of population and population density, Burma is in the mid-range.
The people (millions)
Population density (people per sq km)
But in terms of its economy, Burma lags behind its neighbours, even Laos.
GDP (USD Billions)
Per capita GDP (USD)
GDP growth (percent)
Given Burma’s size, population base, and low economic performance, some see the country as a potential gold mine to be exploited. But a closer look at Burma’s infrastructure shows that there are underlying structural weaknesses, such as insufficience in electricity available for basic consumption, let alone the amount necessary to develop either commerce or industry.
Electricity generation (billion kWh)
Road coverage (kilometres per sq km)
The same scarcity applies to air transport. Rail transport is similar in most countries except Laos, which has none, and Bangladesh, which has a good rail system.
The infrastructure problem becomes more acute when modern communications and technology are taken into account.
Mobile phones (thousands)
Internet Service Providers
Internet access in Burma is restricted.
Internet users (thousands of people)
Conditions are worse when the social sector is taken into account. As per the WHO’s World Health Report 2000, Burma’s Health Service Performance (HSP) for 1997 ranked 190 out of 191 worldwide. This might be due to the State Development and Peace Council (SDPC) not allocating resources for health.
WHO HSP ranking for 1997
One effect of this neglect is that HIV/AIDS has become a major problem
HIV/AIDS population (thousands of people)
Other health indicators in Burma also do not look good.
Life expectancy (years)
Burma has in the past won a UNESCO award for literacy, but today it is far behind its neighbours.
Literacy 15 years+ (percent)
Except Thailand, of all the nations surveyed Burma has been free from colonial rule for the longest, and thus has had the longest time to solve its internal problems. Even the current ruling military junta has had 14.5 years. Colonisation cannot be blamed for Burma’s current problems.
Regime change (Year)
Part of the problem is the SDPC’s obsession with strengthening the military at the expense of all other sectors. Its aim is to have a 500,000-strong military.
Armed forces – UNDP 2000 (thousands of men)
There is no real justification for Burma to have an army larger than its neighbours.
Land borders (kilometres)