Interactive Myanmar Map
This clickable data map explores the overlap of minority populations and economic infrastructure development in Myanmar (Burma), as of September 2011.
At 7% of the total population of Myanmar, the Karen (also Kayan) are the country's second largest ethnic minority group. The Karen sided with the British in WWII, in hopes of being awarded their own nation upon independence from Britain. As a result of ongoing war and ethnic violence, a large Karen refugee population lives in camps on the Thai-Myanmar border. Karen communities inhabit areas that will be impacted by several dams designed to export electricity to Thailand.
The Shan are Myanmar's largest ethnic minority group, at 9% of the total population. The Shan have their own alphabet, language, and culture, stemming from a long history of empires in Thailand and Myanmar. They are also closely related to other Tai ethnic groups throughout Southeast Asia. Shan populations could be impacted by dam development on both the Irrawaddy and Salween rivers, as well as the construction of the Sino-Burma pipeline designed to deliver oil and gas from the port of Kyaukphyu to Yunnan and Guangxi, China.
The Jingpho (also Jingpo, Kachin) are the main ethnic group in the Kachin mega-group. As such, they are often called the "Kachin," although the term "Kachin" technically includes other ethnic groups. The Jingpho-Burman conflict began in 1949 following decolonization and reflected hopes for autonomy from the Burman State, a political entity created by the British. Although there have always been Kachin fighting both with and against the central Burman government, the rebel Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) effectively governed areas of Kachin State outside of major towns for much of recent history.
The Chin mega-group consists of 3 related ethnic groups, the Mizo, Kuki and Chin, which are linked by culture, traditions, and genetics. The three are often grouped under the umbrella term "Chin," although members of the mega-group living outside of Chin State (Myanmar) and Mizoram (India) refer to themselves as Kuki. Originally denied a state, the Chin were finally able to secure statehood in 1974. Although the Sino-Burma pipeline will avoid Chin State, it will cross areas inhabited by Chin people.
The Rakhine ethnic group is the majority along the coastal region of Rakhine State in western Myanmar, though Rakhine people are also found in parts of Bangladesh. The Rakhine Nationalities Development Party contested 44 seats in the 2010 general election and went on to win 35. Sittwe, the island capital of Rakhine State is also the site of a port being developed by India. South of Sittwe is Kyaukphyu, another island port in Rakhine State which is being developed by China as the western terminus of the Sino-Burma pipeline designed to deliver oil and gas, much of it from Africa, as far as Yunnan and Guangxi effectively bypassing the Straights of Malacca.
The Kayah (also Karenni, Red Karen) are a branch of the Karen ethnic group with their own parallel history and traditions. With the Karen, the Kayah sided with the British against the axis powers in WWII, initially pitting them against the ethnic Burmese military. The Kayah have a de facto government led by the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), which struggles to provide services to a dispersed population constantly on the move. Plans to develop two large dams on the Salween system in Kayah territory could add yet another political and security variable to the complicated relationship between the KNPP and Naypyidaw.
The Pa-O form the second largest ethnic group in Shan State and number roughly 600,000 in total. While they are believed to be a Tibeto-Burman ethnicity, their language is related to the Karen. The Pa-O have a Self-Administered Zone that comprises several townships in Southern Shan State. The Pa-O live in areas likely to impacted by hydropower projects on the Salween River.
The Mon are likely one of Myanmar's oldest ethnic groups, and are credited with bringing Buddhism to the area. Although many Mon people have largely assimilated into wider Burmese and Thai cultures, they are increasingly working to preserve important cultural traditions as well as achieve some political autonomy within Myanmar. The New Mon State Party (NMSP) signed a ceasefire with the junta, giving the Burmese military some control over the state. Sections of the controversial Yadana Pipeline project run directly through Mon areas.
The Lisu are a Kachin sub-group living in the border regions of northern Myanmar. Significant populations inhabit Yunnan Province, China, Thailand, and even parts of Arunachal Pradesh, India. Classified as a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group, they are believed to have originated in eastern Tibet. Lisu communities, especially in the North, are potentially at risk from the impacts of dam development on the Salween/Nu River.
The Lahu people are estimated to number more than 700,000 and are concentrated in Southern Yunnan and the Golden Triangle, but small communities can also be found as far east as Northern Vietnam. Some Lahu communities live in areas that could be vulnerable to impacts from Salween hydropower development.
Some 90% of the Nu people live in Yunnan Province in communities near the border with Myanmar. Their language derives from the Tibeto-Burman family and many adhere to Tibetan Buddhism, though animist traditions remain and a small minority has converted to Christianity. Nu communities live in an area of intense hydropower development along the upper Salween river, and share the river's Chinese name - Nu Jiang.
The Palaung are an ethnic minority found in mostly in Myanmar's Shan State, but some small communities are also found in Yunnan Province, China, and northern Thailand. The Palaung Self-Administered Zone was created by the 2008 Constitution and is headquartered in the town of Namhsan. The Sino-Burma pipeline project, as planned, will proceed along one of the largest concentrations of Palaung communities.
One of the smallest ethnic minority groups in the region, the Drung are found in China's Yunnan Province near the border with Myanmar. They also inhabit the mountains above the Nu Jiang (Salween River) likely exposing them to the human and environmental security challenges surrounding hydropower development on the river.
The Wa (also Va) live mainly in an unrecognized, self-administrated state in Eastern Myanmar. The State itself is mainly under the control of the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The Wa have very close ties with China, and Mandarin is their language of government, as well as a second language among the public. Although once aligned with the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), the UWSA has signed a cease-fire agreement with the government, enabling the Wa State to grow to its current size. Development of the Upper Thanlwin dam on the Salween River may prove yet another challenge to peace and stability.