Burma (Myanmar) - Infrastructure, power, and communications

In most developing countries of the world including Burma, inadequate infrastructure —roads, bridges, canals, railways, ports and communication facilities— impedes economic growth. Burma's long coastline is home to many excellent natural harbors such as Bassein, Bhamo, Mandalay, Rangoon, and Tavoy. The government has taken steps to develop new ports and maintain the existing ones, although all the ports are not used to their maximum capacity. A salient geographic feature of Burma is its many rivers, especially the Irrawaddy. The country's waterways remain the most important traditional mode of transportation to many remote areas of the country. Of more than 12,800 kilometers (7,954 miles) of waterways, 3200 kilometers (1,988 miles) are navigable by large commercial vessels.

Since the economic liberalization in 1989, the government started many public works programs. Early in the 1990s the government used forced rural labor to work on these projects. However, due to international criticism, the government began to engage the armed forces on these construction projects starting in mid-1990s. These projects did not bring about major improvement in the infrastructure needs of the country. The result has been that economic expansion was made difficult because in the absence of adequate transportation facilities, distribution of goods and services has been extremely difficult and costly.

In 1996, Burma had a total of 28,200 kilometers (17,523 miles) of roads, of which only 3,440 kilometers (2,138 miles) were paved. Although the government attempted to improve many major roadways during the final years of the 20th century, most remain in poor repair and are not passable during the monsoon season. A major effort in this regard was to reconstruct the Old Burma Road from Mandalay to the borders of China. As of late 2000, the work on the project was still incomplete.

Rail services remain poor despite attempts in the 1990s to renovate the existing lines, add new ones, and upgrade railway services on the main routes. Burma has a total of 3,991 kilometers (2,480 miles) of railways, over 320 locomotives, and more than 4,000 rail cars. The recent efforts include upgrading Rangoon-Mandalay rail line and beginning a new 162-kilometer Ye-Dawai Rail track project. In the 1995-96 fiscal year the railways carried 53,400,000 passengers and 3,280,000 tons of freight.

Burma has 80 airports and 1 heliport. Only 10 airports have paved runways. Both the private sector and the state sector are active in air transportation. The Department of Civil Aviation is responsible for the airports and the state-run airline. Air Mandalay, Myanma Airways, and Myanma Airways International are the chief airlines of the country. Burma's chief airports at Rangoon, Mandalay, and Bago were upgraded in the late

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Burma 10 95 7 N/A 0 0.1 N/A 0.00 1
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
China N/A 333 272 40.0 19 1.6 8.9 0.50 8,900
Thailand 63 232 236 10.1 32 2.5 21.6 4.49 800
a Data are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
b Data are from the Internet Software Consortium ( http://www.isc.org ) and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

1990s. During the 1995-96 fiscal year state-run airlines carried a total of 719,000 domestic passengers and 138,000 international passengers.

Light transportation such as buses and cars are a private sector activity in Burma. As of March 31, 1996, Burma had 151,934 passenger cars, 42,828 trucks, 15,639 buses, 88,521 motorcycles, and another 6,611 registered vehicles.

Also during 1996, state-owned maritime vessels carried 24,491,000 passengers and 3,158,000 tons of freight. These numbers show an increase over the same period of the previous fiscal year.

Industrial production and expansion are limited due to inadequate production and intermittent supply of electric power. Electricity production of 4.38 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 1998 was far below demand. Around 38 percent of the electricity is generated by hydroelectric projects while the remaining 62 percent comes from fossil fuels. Chronic shortages and frequent disruptions of supply exist. Therefore, state and private enterprises operate far below their capacity. Moreover, very often they have to depend on their own diesel-run power generators to meet their electrical needs.

As of 1995, there were 158,000 main telephone lines. In 1997, there were 500 exchanges with a capacity to reach 320 of the 324 townships in the nation. The number of mobile cellular phones was only 2,007 in 1995. Although the telephone system is capable of providing basic services, it is inefficient and outdated. Attempts in the 1990s to upgrade the system yielded only minimal results. Cellular and wireless phones function more efficiently than the traditional lines. The switching system is incapable of meeting current demands, and people have to wait for a long time for a telephone connection to their homes and factories. International service powered by a satellite earth station is relatively good.

The 2 television stations in Burma service 260,000 (1997) television sets. TV Burma is able to transmit 82 percent of its broadcasts to 267 of the 324 townships in the country with the help of 120 TV relay stations. These are in addition to Burma's 2 AM, 3 FM, and 3 shortwave radio stations. In 1997 the country had a total of 4.2 million radio sets. Radio and television stations are state-owned and operated. In 1996, there were 5 newspapers with an estimated circulation of 449,000, a significant decline from 1994 circulation figures.

There are about 50,000 computers in all of Burma. Public access to the Internet is prohibited for fear that it could encourage and widen political dissent and protest. Unauthorized ownership of modems is punishable by up to 15 years in jail. E-mail is restricted to foreigners and businesspeople with close ties to the administration. Private e-mail providers are prohibited, and only the Ministry of Post and Telegraph is allowed to provide e-mail service.

Improvements in the infrastructure were partly funded by deficit spending. In the absence of adequate funds, the government is unable to fully develop the country's transportation and communication systems and facilities. This situation had a negative impact on modernization and economic growth of the country for many decades.

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Mr Tin Aung Soe
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