Burma, or officially Myanmar, gains the world’s attention mainly with some sort of bad news in recent years: The suppression of the Saffron Revolution in 2007 and the natural disaster of Cyclone Nargis in 2008 are the most prominent events that brought the country back in people’s minds. Apart from that, few of us now much more about the country, which is ruled by a military regime since 1962.
Now it is back on the news agenda, as the first elections since 1990 have been announced to take place today. The 1990 result has been ignored by the ruling junta and Aung San Suu Kyi the leader of the then-winning party NLD has been under house arrest most of the time since 1989. Many wonder what impact this year’s election will have – if any at all. Apart from all the political implications, the perhaps most significant implication of this election – regardless of the outcome – is the fact that “We must keep telling Burma’s story“. Few genuine stories cross the borders, and there are little insights to the life under military oppression available, such as the footage of Burma Soldier which has recently been shown at Sheffield Doc/Fest.
Telling Burmas story does include learning about the country’s geography. As this website is all about maps and visualisation, this can be shown with a map to visualise the basic geography of Burma (drawing a map of the election may be less useful given the doubtful nature of these election and the general lack of reliable data). The following map shows a conventional physical map of Burma (with selected cities labelled) compared to a gridded population cartogram that visualises the population distribution. The population map shows the importance of the Irrawaddy delta region which is the most densely populated area of Burma. This explains the impact that cyclone Nargis had in this area that is situated only few metres above sea level. Yangon (or Rangoon) with a population of approximately 5 million lies on the Eastern edge of the delta region. It had also been Burma’s capital until 2006, when the military government decided to move the capital away from the main population to a less populated region but strategically well situated between Yangon and Mandalay. As a result, Naypyidaw was announced the new capital in March 2006. The last royal capital Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, is the centre of the economically important region of upper Burma which is heavily influenced by trading links to China’s Yunnan province. Much less populated are the mountainous regions in the North of the country. Here are the maps:
The CIA World Factbook gives the numbers that are behind these maps:
Area: 678,500 sq. km.
Cities: Administrative capital–Nay Pyi Taw, near the township of Pyinmana (pop. 200,000). Other cities–Rangoon (pop. 5.5 million), Mandalay (pop. 1.2 million).
Terrain: Central lowlands ringed by steep, rugged highlands.
Climate: Tropical monsoon; cloudy, rainy, hot, humid summers (southwest monsoon, June to September); less cloudy, scant rainfall, mild temperatures, lower humidity during winter (December to April). Some areas of central Burma are subject to prolonged drought conditions.
Population: 53.4 million
Annual population growth rate: 0.8%.
Religions: Buddhist 89%, Christian 4%, Muslim 4%, animist 1%, other 2%.
Languages: Burmese, minority ethnic languages.
Education: Literacy–adult, 89.9%; male, 93.9%; female, 86.4%
Health: Infant mortality rate–74 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy–61.2 yrs.: male, 59.0 yrs.; female 63.4 yrs.
Some more detailed facts about the country can be found on the BBC website.
A different kind of visual provides the remarkable film project of German comedian Michael Mittermeier who teamed up with the British documentary filmmaker Rex Bloomstein to tell the story of Burma’s Maung Thura (aka Zarganar). Their film This Prison Where I Live sheds an unusual light on the political situation in Burma:
The map on this page has been created by Benjamin Hennig and is property of the SASI Research Group (University of Sheffield). We welcome the use of our maps under the Creative Commons conditions; please contact us for further details – we also appreciate a notification if you used our maps somewhere else. High resolution and customized maps are available on request.