Many of Myanmar’s international boundaries follow ranges of mountains and hills. For example: the Rakhine Mountains, which include the Patkai Range, Naga Hills and Chin Hills, between Myanmar and India; the Dawna Range and Tanintharyi Mountains between Myanmar and Thailand; and the Hengduan Range and Shan Plateau between Myanmar and China. The highest point in the country, Hkakabo Razi, at 5,881 metres (19,296 feet) above sea level, is on the border with China in the Hengduan Range. The mountains in the north are relatively young, formed over the last 50 million years along the line where the Eurasian Tectonic Plate is being pushed up by the northward-moving Indian-Australian Plate. This makes them generally higher, steeper and more rugged than the older, more heavily eroded mountains and hills to the south. The Rakhine Mountains run down the entire western side of Myanmar at an average elevation of1,800 metres (6,000 feet) above sea level. The Shan Plateau in the east is, on average, only about 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) above sea level, and it is deeply dissected by a network of rivers. Some mountains have religious or other cultural significance. Kyaiktiyo, Sagaing Hill and Mount Popa are among Myanmar’s most important cultural landmarks.
Administrative regions of Myanmar are divided into states, regions and union territories. There are seven states, seven regions, and one union territory; Kachin State, Kayah State, Kayin State, Chin State, Mon Stake, Rakhine State, Shan State, Sagaing Region, Tanintharyi Region, Bago Region, Magway Region, Mandalay Region, Yangon Region, Ayeyarwady Region, and Naypyidaw Union Territory. Self-administered zones and self-administered divisions also present in Myanmar. They are Danu Self-Administered Zone, Kokang Self-Administered Zone, Naga Self-Administered Zone, Pa’O Self-Administered Zone, Pa Laung Self-Administered Zone, and Wa Self-Administered Zone.
Population distribution is strongly influenced by the physical characteristics of a territory. The people of Myanmar show how populations are extremely adaptable and can thrive in a wide range of natural environments. Even so, local and regional differences in topography, climate, soils, water resources and natural vegetation has strong influences on where and how the people of Myanmar live. Generally, upland areas are much less densely populated than the lowlands of the central basin and coastal plains. Totally, the population in Myanmar is estimated to be 54,528,628 .
Monsoon winds are the main drivers of Myanmar’s climate. Combined with the predominantly north-south alignment of the country’s mountain ranges and valleys, the winds create a pattern of alternating wet and dry zones during both the north-east (November to February) and south-west (June to October) monsoon seasons. Most parts of the country have adequate rainfall for agriculture yearround, though irrigation is needed in many lowland areas, particularly during the dry inter-monsoonal season from February to May. Cold temperatures are the limiting factors in the high north, where cold air masses from Central Asia bring snow for two months each year. The wettest parts of the country are the coasts and mountain ranges in the west and south-east, which receive more than 5,000 millimeters (200 inches) of rainfall annually. About 2,500 millimeters (100 inches) of rain falls on the Ayeyarwady delta each year. Proximity to the coast and the low, flat terrain of this part of Myanmar makes it particularly vulnerable to risks associated with the tropical cyclones that occasionally form in the Andaman Sea. The central basin is known as the dry zone. Sheltered from the wet westerly winds by the Rakhine Mountains, this part of the country only receives between 500 and 1,000 millimeters (20 to 40 inches) of rainfall per year.
The agriculture sector is a high priority for the Government of Myanmar. Agriculture contributes 30 percent of national GDP and about 68 percent of rural population relies on crop husbandry and livestock for their livelihoods and incomes. The combined influences of the natural elements described above are reflected in Myanmar’s three distinct agricultural zones: the Ayeyarwady and other deltas, where paddy rice is the dominant crop; the dry lowlands, where production of a wide variety of crops, including rice, are made possible by irrigation; and hill and plateau regions, where tree crops and shifting agriculture predominate. Important crops raised in the dry zone include sugarcane, legumes, groundnuts, maize, onions, sesame and rubber. Upland crops include some extensive tea and coffee estates and large areas of mixed agriculture where the principle crops are upland rice, yams, maize and millet. In addition, large numbers of pigs, poultry, goats and chickens are kept. Bullocks and buffalo are commonly used as working animals.
Lakes, rivers and groundwater are vital sources of fresh water for human consumption, industry and irrigated agriculture. Large volumes of water that falls in the uplands in the west, north and east, drains to the coasts through the central basin and lowlands. The central basin is dominated by the Ayeyarwady River which, with a navigable length of almost 1,600 km (1,000 miles), is the longest river in Myanmar and, from a socio-economic point of view, by far the most important (Geographia, 2016). The Ayeyarwady drains about 60 per cent of the land area of the country. Other important rivers include: the Chindwin, a tributary of the Ayeyarwady in the north-west; Ngawon and Yangon Rivers in the south; the Sittaung, which drains into the Gulf of Martaban, in the east; and the Salween, which is the largest of the many rivers that drain the Shan Plateau. All of these rivers, and especially the Ayeyarwady, attract people in large numbers to live and farm near them; provide corridors for travel around the country; and facilitate the movement of large volumes of agricultural produce, minerals, forest products and manufactured goods to the country’s population centers and ports. Lakes also attract people because they provide a source of water and food. Indawgyi Lake in the northern hills of Kachin State is Myanmar’s largest lake. Measuring 24 km (15 miles) by 13 km (8 miles), it is also one of South-East Asia’s largest natural inland water bodies. Inle Lake, on the Shan Plateau, is also important for its natural resources, as a site of social and religious significance, and as a major tourist attraction.
After water, food is the most important requirement to sustain life. To meet this need, historically people have lived in the largest number sand at the highest densities on the most productive land. In Myanmar, this is found on the deep, alluvial silts and clays in the central basin and low lands. The lowland soils are not naturally high in nutrients or organic matter, but they are very productive when fertilized. Over the millennia, Myanmar has increasingly adopted sophisticated agricultural practices to raise the productivity of the central basin and coastal plain sand feed its ever-growing population. In contrast, soils in the uplands are relatively shallow and poor in nutrients. They are easily eroded, especially in steep areas with heavy rainfall, and where forest cover has been cleared. Myanmar’s uplands are generally less densely settled than its lowlands, partly because the soils in the mountains are not as productive. Though the soils in the uplands generally cannot support the intensive growing of staples such as rice, wheat or potatoes, they are adequate for less demanding perennial crops such as tea, coffee and rubber, for seasonal plantings of a wide variety of grains, pulses and vegetables, and for grazing livestock.