Myanmar: Urbanization at an Early but Growing Stage

January 26, 2015

New World Bank data compiled through satellite imagery and geospatial mapping provides new understanding of East Asia’s accelerating urbanization. The new analysis provides vital data at a time when much of the region’s infrastructure is getting built as part of a physical and social transformation in East Asia.

For Myanmar, the new World Bank report East Asia’s Changing Urban Landscape: Measuring a Decade of Spatial Growth finds that the country is at an early but growing stage of urbanization. As of 2010, Myanmar had no large urban areas by East Asian standards, but Yangon and Mandalay were medium-sized with populations of one to five million.

Key findings

  • Urbanization in Myanmar during the first decade of the 2000s lagged behind that of its neighbors, likely as a result of Myanmar’s economic isolation, which continued until about 2010.
  • Despite being geographically one of the larger countries in the region, more than twice as large as Vietnam or Malaysia, it had less than a third of the urban area of Vietnam and a fifth of that of Malaysia.
  • The amount of urban land in the country increased during this period from 760 square kilometers to 830, an increase of 0.8% per year, one of the lowest rates of increase in the region.
  • Although the country’s population remains largely rural, urban population growth was faster than spatial growth. The population in urban areas of Myanmar increased from 4.7 million in 2000 (10% of the population) to 6.2 million in 2010 (13% of the population).
  • The density of urban areas was 6,200 people per square kilometer in 2000, increasing to 7,500 by 2010. This density was higher than the average for urban areas in the East Asia region as a whole, and the second largest increase in density after Indonesia.
  • As of 2010, Myanmar had no large urban areas by East Asian standards, but had two medium-sized ones in the 1 million to 5 million population range, Yangon and Mandalay.
  • Yangon is Myanmar’s largest urban area. However, spatially it barely grew during this period, expanding at a rate of 0.5% a year between 2000 and 2010, from 370 square kilometers to 390.
  • Yangon’s population grew much faster than its area, at 2.6% a year from 2.6 million people to 3.4 million.