Like most countries of the world, Burma has extremes of wealth and poverty. Once prosperous, Burma was, in 2001, one of the poorest countries of the world.
|GDP per Capita (US$)|
|Data are estimates.|
|SOURCE: Handbook of the Nations , 17th,18th,19th and 20th editions for 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 data; CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online] for 2000 data.|
Most people live in the 40,000-odd villages of the country, while the majority of the urban population resides in the capital city of Rangoon. Among the population engaged in agriculture, 37 percent of the people do not have any land or livestock. Poverty and misery have increased in the past 3 decades. In 1997 the CIA World Factbook estimated that 23 percent of the Burmese population had incomes that placed them below the poverty line.
The economic crisis of 1997 added to the problem. Inflation as of 1999 was at an all-time high of 50 percent on domestic goods and 104 percent on imported items. The government's policies have not helped to diminish inflation, which has eroded the purchasing power of Burma's citizens. The gap between rich and poor and rural and urban areas has increased. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), per capita income registered only a minimal increase in the 1990s. Many poor people are forced to send their children to work. Many women reportedly are sent to work in Thailand. The number of street children has also increased, and malnutrition among children is widespread. Sanitary conditions are far from satisfactory. Malaria, diarrhea, dysentery, tuberculosis, and more recently HIV/AIDS (due to drugs and prostitution) are the major health hazards of the country.
In the countryside, a bullock cart (a 2-wheeled cart drawn by 2 castrated bulls) is the most popular means of transportation. Most farmers own a pair of oxen or water buffalo, a hoe, and a bullock cart for agricultural purposes. The rural houses (actually huts without running water or toilets) are made of bamboo. One portion is used for cooking and the other for sleeping. In the major towns and cities, there are houses made of brick and concrete. They are usually small and overcrowded.
The government's socio-economic policies have not helped the people. Large outlays of money have been spent on the military, while only meager funds have gone to education and health issues. The numbers of children who do not attend school or who have dropped out reportedly increased in the 1990s. According to World Bank estimates, only 46.9 percent of the secondary school-age children were enrolled in schools during 1995. Education beyond the primary age is not compulsory. Burmese authorities boast a literacy rate of 83 percent, though independent observers have suggested that the rate may be as low as 30 percent. Most universities have been closed since December 1996.
Health care in the rural areas was marginal until the 1960s. The government has opened more rural health centers and directed more doctors to the rural areas. As a result, the doctor-patient ratio has decreased considerably, from 1 per 15,560 to 1 per 3,578 in 1986. Health care is provided free of charge.