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Fast Facts on Burma

Below are some fast facts on Burma and the challenges faced by the Burmese people.

The Population

  • Estimated population of 54-55 million (no official census has been taken since 1983).
  • Over 550,000 internally displaced people (IDP) within Burma, with the largest concentration along the Thailand-Burma border.
  • 160,00 officially recognised refugees in camps along the Thailand-Burma border, 20,000 refugees in camps in Bangladesh, 50,000 refugees in Northeast India and 12,000 living in temporary jungle settlements in Malaysia.
  • Over 2 million people from Burma live as migrant workers in Thailand (the vast majority as illegal migrants).
  • 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

  • The military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), which had been in power since 1962, was replaced by a civilian government in 2010. However it is widely perceived that this change is purely cosmetic.
  • 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).
  • Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Price, was only just released in November 2010 after years under house arrest.

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.
  • The government’s Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) members have been linked to attacks on human rights activities and opposition leaders, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
  • The NLD has been brutally repressed and many of its leaders and members detained and tortured.

Standards of Living and Health Care

  • 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 Organisation ranked Burma’s health sector 190 out of 191 countries.
  • UNICEF estimates that government spending on healthcare per capita is US $0.40 (compared to $61 per capita in Thailand). This is less than 3% of national budget going towards healthcare, while 40% goes towards military expenses.
  • 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.


  • 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 from pregnancy-related complications (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.
  • Officially, education in Burma is compulsory until the end of primary school, with the completion of 4th standard. UNICEF reports that less than fifty percent of children actually achieve this.
  • 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.
  • Only government controlled schools are allowed to offer instruction up to the 10th standard, but these schools are not found in rural areas.
  • 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.
  • To consolidate territorial gains, the government has doubled the deployment of battalions across eastern Burma during the last decade.
  • In 1988 there were approximately 200,000 men serving in the Tatmadaw (government military), in 2007 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.
  • The use of landmines:
    • In addition to the 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.
    • 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.


  • Amnesty International USA
  • Back Pack Health Worker Team, Chronic Emergency: Health and Human Rights in Eastern Burma, May 2007
  • Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Background Note: Burma, June 2007 http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/35910.htm.
  • Burma Campaign UK
  • Dan McDougall, The Observer: Shackles, Torture, Executions: Inside Burma’s Jungle Gulags, March 28, 2007.
  • Geneva Call
  • Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley & Center for Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, The Gathering Storm: Infectious Diseases and Human Rights in Burma, July 2007, http://www.hrcberkeley.org/download/BurmaReport2007.pdf
  • Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, Despite Promises, Child Soldiers in the SPDC Army.
  • Human Rights Watch, Statement to the EU Development Committee 2004, http://hrw.org/english.
  • International Crisis Group, Myanmar’s Ethnic Minorities, 2003, http://www.crisisgroup.org
  • Karen Human Rights Group, Development by Decree
  • Karen Women Organization
  • Larry Jagan, Mizzima News, Burma’s Economy: The Junta’s Achilles’ Heel, August 6, 2007.
  • National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma: Human Rights Documentation Unit, Burma Human Rights Yearbook 2006, Chapter 12: Rights to Education and Health, 25th June 2007.
  • Refugees International
  • Salween Watch
  • Shan Women Associate Network
  • Sydney Morning Herald, Oil Companies Look to Exploit Burma, September 30, 2007.
  • Thailand Burma Border Consortium, Report: January –June 2007.
  • The Shwe Gas Movement
  • US Department of State, Background Note: Burma
  • Mark Macan-Makar, Inter Press Service: White –shirts –Junta’s storm troopers, September 30, 2007.
  • Women’s League of Chin Land
  • World Health Organization, World Health Statistics 2007