Rich in oil, gas, timber and gemstones and renowned for its fertility, Myanmar was once called the ‘rice bowl of Asia’.
But today one in three children in the country are malnourished and one in five people lack access to safe water, according to the Human Development Index.
Thousands of people work as unpaid labourers, and the marginalisation of minority ethnic groups has led to half a million people being uprooted from their homes and hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Thailand and Bangladesh.
A military junta has ruled Myanmar for nearly five decades. Despite Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy winning elections in 1990, her party never took power. Before her joyful release in November 2010, she had spent many of the intervening years under house arrest.
The same month, Myanmar saw its first elections for two decades. A partial return to civilian rule ensued, but the impact on ordinary people remains to be seen.
Myanmar is disaster-prone, suffering cyclones, floods, droughts, earthquakes, landslides and food shortages – the latter sometimes caused by infestations of rats.
In 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated the Ayeyarwaddy delta region of south Myanmar, killing at least 138,000 people and laying waste to countless livelihoods.