FLAG: The national flag has the Union Jack in the upper quarter nearest the hoist; nine yellow stars on a light blue field are arranged in the same pattern as Tuvalu's nine islands.
ANTHEM: Tuvalu mo te Atua (Tuvalu for the Almighty) .
MONETARY UNIT: Both the Australian dollar (a$) and the Tuvaluan dollar (t$) of 100 cents are legal tender. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 Tuvaluan cents; 1 and 5 Tuvaluan dollars; and notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 Australian dollars. t$1 = us$0.76336 (or us$1 = t$1.31) as of 2005.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is being introduced, but imperial measures are still commonly employed.
HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; National Children's Day, first Monday in August; Tuvalu Day, 1 October; Christmas Day, 25 December; Boxing Day, 26 December. Movable holidays include Commonwealth Day (March), Queen's Official Birthday (June), and Prince of Wales's Birthday (November); movable religious holidays include Good Friday and Easter Monday.
TIME: Midnight = noon GMT.
LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT
Tuvalu (formerly the Ellice Islands) comprises a cluster of nine islands, plus islets, located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean just south of the Equator. These remote atolls are situated about 1,050 km (650 mi) n of Suva, Fiji, and 4,000 km (2,500 mi) ne of Sydney, Australia. They lie in a 595-km-long (370-mi) chain extending over some 1,300,000 sq km (500,000 sq mi) of ocean and have a total land area of 26 sq km (10 sq mi). Comparatively, the area occupied by Tuvalu is about 0.1 times the size of Washington, D.C. Tuvalu has a coastline of 24 km (15 mi).
Tuvalu's capital city, Funafuti is located on the island of Funafuti.
Tuvalu consists entirely of low-lying coral atolls, none of which is more than 5 m (16 ft) above sea level; few of the atolls are more than 0.8 km (0.5 mi) wide. The islands are coral reefs on the outer arc of ridges formed by pressure from the Central Pacific against the ancient Australian landmass. On five islands, the reefs enclose sizable lagoons; the others are mere pinnacles rising abruptly from the ocean floor. Only two of the islands, Funafuti and Nukufetau, have natural harbors for oceangoing ships. There are no rivers on the islands.
Tuvalu has a tropical climate with little seasonal variation. The annual mean temperature of 30 ° c (86 ° f) is moderated by trade winds from the east. Rainfall averages over 355 cm (140 in), with most rain falling between November and February. Although the islands lie north of the main cyclone belt, Funafuti was devastated in 1894, 1972, and 1990.
FLORA AND FAUNA
The surrounding sea is rich in flora and fauna, but land vegetation is limited to coconut palm, pandanus, and imported fruit trees. Pigs, fowl, and dogs, all of which were imported in the 19th century, flourish on the islands. The only indigenous mammal is the Polynesian rat. Birds include reef herons, terns, and noddies. There are 22 known species of butterfly and moth.
Environmental dangers include uncontrolled spread of the crown of thorns starfish, which flourishes in deepened channels and is destructive to coral reefs; erosion of beachheads from the use of sand for building materials; and excessive clearance of forest undergrowth for firewood. About 40% of Funafuti is uninhabitable because the United Kingdom authorized the United States to dig an airstrip out of the coral bed during World War II. Global warming and the related rise of sea levels are also a significant environmental concern for Tuvalu's residents. The encroachment of sea water also poses a threat of contamination to the nation's limited water supply, whose purity is already at risk due to untreated sewage and the by-products of the mining industry and farming. Natural hazards include earthquakes, cyclones, and volcanic activity.
According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 1 species of bird, 1 type of reptile, 5 species of fish, and 1 type of mollusk. Current fishing methods threaten Tuvalu's marine life. The green sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, bay shark, and the leatherback turtle are endangered.
The population of Tuvalu in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 10,000, which placed it at number 192 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 6% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 36% of the population under 15 years of age. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 2005 – 10 was expected to be less that 0.5%, due to ongoing emigration. The projected population for the year 2025 was 14,000. The population density was 386 per sq km (1,000 per sq mi). Population is distributed among the islands as follows: Vaitupu (approximately 15%), Niutao (11%), and Nanumea (11%), with the remaining 63% divided among Nukufetau, Nanumanga, Nui, Nukulaelae, and Niulakita (formerly uninhabited).
The UN estimated that 47% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.51%. The capital city, Funafuti, had a population of 6,000 in that year.
During the 19th century, recruitment of Tuvaluans to work on plantations in other Pacific islands, Australia, and South America reduced the resident population from about 20,000 to 3,000. Migrants account for about 3% of the total population. A steady rate of emigration has resulted in little population growth over the past decade. The net migration rate was zero in 1999 and in 2005. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.
Apart from a few Europeans, the islanders are almost entirely Polynesian (96%) and have strong ties with the Samoans and Tokelauans. There is no evidence of pre-Polynesian settlement. Language and tradition indicate that the Tuvaluans were part of a Samoan-Tongan migration from the 14th through the 17th century.
English and Tuvaluan, a Polynesian tongue related closely to Samoan, are the principal languages. A Gilbertese dialect (Kiribati) is spoken on Nui.
In 1865, a member of the London Missionary Society reached Tuvalu from Samoa and Samoan pastors were sent to the islands. The Tuvaluans rapidly embraced the Christian faith and about 91% of them are Protestant members of the Church of Tuvalu, a Congregationalist group. Seventh-Day Adventists account for 3% of the population, Baha'is for 3%, Jehovah's Witnesses for 2%, and Catholics for 1%. There are also small numbers of Muslims, Baptists, Mormons, and atheists.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the separation of church and state; however, the government seems to favor Christian practices, even by opening sessions of parliament with Christian prayer. Traditional chiefs from all of the nine island groups are members of the Church of Tuvalu. Religious groups are required to register with the government and may be prosecuted for failure to due so. A group must have more than 50 members in order to register.
Transportation is inadequate. Most roads are little more than tracks, although Funafuti has about 19.5 km (12.1 mi) of coral-impacted roads for use by the island's few cars and trucks. Funafuti and Nukufetau are the only seaports, used chiefly by freighters in the copra trade. Ships drawing up to 9 m (30 ft) can dock in Funafuti harbor at a deepwater wharf completed in 1980. In 2005, Tuvalu had a merchant fleet of 23 ships of 1,000 GRT or more, totaling 54,993 GRT. All the islands are served by Tuvalu's one inter-island ferry. As of 2004, Funafuti had one lone airport, a grass strip that cannot be used for jet aircraft.
The islands were probably settled between the 14th and 17th centuries by Polynesians drifting west with prevailing winds from Samoa and other large islands. The first European to discover Tuvalu is thought to have been the Spanish navigator ç lvaro de Menda – a de Neyra, who sighted Nui in 1568 and Niulakita in 1595. Further European contact was not made until the end of the 18th century. Between 1850 and 1875, the islands were raided by ships forcibly recruiting plantation workers for South America, Fiji, Hawaii, Tahiti, and Queensland. To help suppress such abuses, the Office of British High Commissioner for the Western Pacific was created in 1877.
In 1892, after ascertaining the inhabitants' wishes, the United Kingdom proclaimed the Ellice Islands (as Tuvalu was then known), together with the Gilberts, as a British protectorate. After further consultation, the protectorate became the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony in 1916. After the Japanese occupied the Gilberts in 1942, US forces occupied the Ellice group in 1943 and drove the Japanese out of the Gilberts. After the war, the ethnic differences between the Micronesians of the Gilberts and the Polynesians of the Ellice Islands led the Ellice Islanders to demand separation. In 1973, a British commissioner appointed to examine the situation recommended administrative separation of the two island groups. The British government agreed, provided that the Ellice Islanders declared their wishes by referendum. The vote, held during August-September 1974 with UN observers in attendance, produced an overwhelming majority of 3,799 – 293 for separation. Accordingly, on 1 October 1975, the Ellice Islands were established as the separate British colony of Tuvalu, and a ministerial system was instituted. Pursuant to a constitutional conference held at London in February 1978, Tuvalu became an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations on 1 October 1979. Sir Fiatau Penitala Teo became Tuvalu's first governor-general, and Toaripi Lauti, chief minister at the time of independence, took office as Tuvalu's first prime minister. Following new elections in September 1981, Tomasi Puapua, who was reelected in September 1985, succeeded Lauti in office. In March 1986, Tupua Leupena replaced Sir Fiatau Penitala Teo as governor-general. In a poll held that same year, Tuvaluans rejected the idea that Tuvalu should become a republic. As a result of the 1989 general election the parliament elected Bikenibeu Paeniu as prime minister in September 1989. In the same election, Naama Latasi became the first woman to serve in Tuvalu's parliament.
In the 1993 legislative elections Paeniu and Puapua, the man who he replaced as prime minister, each received six votes from the newly elected 12-member parliament. A second round of votes were held in December that year, from which Puapua withdrew, and Kamuta Latasi was elected prime minister. In 1994 Latasi spearheaded a movement to remove the British Union Jack from the country's flag as a symbolic gesture of independence. In 1995, after conservative French President Jacques Chirac announced his country's intention to conduct above-ground nuclear tests in the South Pacific, Tuvalu emerged as a regional leader in the highly vocal opposition.
In April 1997 the Union Jack was restored as part of Tuvalu's national flag by a vote of seven to five in the Parliament. Newly reelected Prime Minister Bikenibeau Paeniu restored the former flag design, which Latasi had changed without consideration of the views of Tuvalu's citizens. Tuvalu, Nauru, and Kiribati aligned with the Cook Islands and Niue to put pressure on Australian production of "greenhouse gases." These low-lying island nations are particularly vulnerable to future global warming. Already flooding in stormy weather, they pressed for a worldwide cut of 20% of 1990 emission levels by 2005. Australia rejected the proposal, citing 90,000 jobs would be lost if Australia was forced to reduce emissions. None of Tuvalu's islands rise more than 16 feet (5 m) above sea level, and their future existence may be imperiled.
In 1998 Tuvalu began selling Internet addresses in its TV domain, i.e. all Tuvaluan Internet addresses end with the letters "tv."
By April 1999 there was growing dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Paeniu's leadership. Paeniu was forced to give up his office after a no confidence
vote of parliament. On 27 April 1999 Ionatana Ionatana, former Minister of Education, was elected as prime minister by the 12-member parliament.
In August 1999 Tuvalu sought economic aid as it suffered through a severe drought. Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Britain promised assistance to ease the water shortage with desalination plants. Japan agreed to provide the plants; New Zealand would pay to transport them. Australia would provide technical assistance toward formulating water policies.
Reportedly, Tuvalu licensed its dot-tv domain for us$50 million over 10 years to an Internet incubator. In February 2000 Prime Minister Ionatana received the first installment of the licensing deal, us$20 million, and invested it in trust funds. In the continuing dispute with Britain over Tuvaluan separation with the Gilberts (Kiribati), Ionatana suggested that Tuvalu become a republic. In 2000 Tuvalu was admitted to the United Nations.
On 9 December 2000, Ionatana collapsed from cardiac arrest and died. Tuvalu had 4 prime ministers from 2000 to 2002. Faimalaga Luka, who was elected prime minister in February 2001, was replaced by Koloa Talake in December 2001 after a vote of no confidence. Saufatu Sopoanga became prime minister in August 2002 after general elections were held on 25 July. The elections and appointment of Sopoanga were expected to herald a period of stability in Tuvalu after Ionatana's death. However, Sopoanga's majority was by one seat. When the seat of Nanumea was declared vacant after the Chief Justice ruled that a government member of parliament had lodged his nomination papers after the legal deadline and a second seat held by the government became vacant following the death of the parliamentary speaker, a by-election was called. After the by-election Sopoanga did not have a majority. Sopoanga was defeated 8 – 6 in the 15-seat parliament, with one absentee. His defeat resulted mainly from Parliament Speaker Otinielu Tausi's joining the opposition camp because of his disagreement with Sopoanga's financial policies. Following this noconfidence vote on 25 August 2004, Saufatu Sopoanga resigned his parliamentary seat on 27 August 2004.
Deputy Prime Minister Maatia Toafa succeeded Sopoanga in an acting capacity on 27 August 2004. After having earlier resigned as prime minister, Sopoanga won the by-election on Nukufetau. He did not seek reelection for prime minister, but supported Toafa. Toafa was confirmed as Tuvalu's ninth prime minister in a Parliamentary election (8 – 7 vote) on 11 October 2004. He is the first prime minister of Tuvalu to hail from the island of Nanumea, the most northern of the group. In June 2005, Toafa lost one of his key allies with the resignation of Sio Patiale for medical reasons.
Tuvalu is an independent constitutional monarchy. The head of state is the British monarch, whose representative on the islands is the governor-general, a Tuvaluan who has the power to convene and dissolve parliament (Filoimea Telito since 15 April 2005) There is a unicameral legislature, or Fale I Fono, the House of Assembly, with 15 members elected to four-year terms by universal adult suffrage. Seven islands elect two members each and one island elects one member. The prime minister and deputy prime minister are elected by and from the members of parliament. The cabinet is headed by the prime minister and has up to five ministers (all House members). Suffrage is 18 years of age. An election for prime minister was last held 11 October 2004, the next was to be held following parliamentary elections in 2006.
There are no political parties, and political life and elections are dominated by personalities. Small island constituencies with a few hundred kin-related electors judge the leaders by their service to the community.
Local administration by elected island councils was established following the creation of the protectorate in 1892. Local governments were established on the eight inhabited islands by a 1966 ordinance that provided the framework for a policy aimed at financing local services at the island level. Funafuti's town council and the other seven island councils each consist of six elected members, including a president. Under the Falekapule Act of 1997, increasing power devolved from the central government to the island councils.
District magistrates were established with the protectorate in 1892, and native courts have observed a simple code of law based on mission legislation and traditional councils. Eight island courts (with limited jurisdiction) were constituted in 1965 to deal with land disputes, among other local matters. In 1975 a High Court of Justice was set up to hear appeals from district courts. Appeals from the High Court may go to the Court of Appeals in Fiji and ultimately to the UK Privy Council in London. In the High Court a chief justice visits twice a year to preside over its sessions.
The right to a fair public trial is respected in practice. Services of the public defender are available to all Tuvaluans free of charge. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses, present evidence, and to appeal. The judiciary is independent and free of governmental interference.
Tuvalu has no armed forces except for the local police, which includes a maritime surveillance unit. For defense the islands rely on Australian-trained volunteers from Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
Tuvalu became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations on 1 September 2000, and the 189th member of the United Nations on 5 September 2000. Tuvalu serves on the FAO, IMO, ITU, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UPU, and the WHO. The country is also part of the Asian Development Bank, the ACP Group, the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (Sparteca), the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and the Pacific Island Forum (formally called the South Pacific Forum).
In 1979, Tuvalu signed a treaty of friendship with the United States, which in 1983 formally dropped its prior claim to four of the nine islands. Tuvalu opposes French nuclear testing in the South Pacific and signed the 1985 Rarotonga Agreement declaring the region a nuclear-weapons-free zone. In environmental cooperation, Tuvalu is part of the Kyoto Protocol, the Montr é al Protocol, MARPOL, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change and Desertification.
Prime Minister Toaripi Lauti noted at the time of independence (1979) that all Tuvalu has is sun and a portion of the Pacific. Economic life is simple, but there is no extreme poverty. Subsistence is based on intensive use of limited resources, namely coconuts and fish; copra is the only cash crop. The sale of stamps and coins and worker remittances were the primary sources of government revenue in the mid-2000s. About 1,000 Tuvaluans work in Nauru in the phosphate mining industry. The islands are too small and too remote for development of a tourist industry. Fewer than 1,000 visitors visit the island annually, most attached to international aid delegations. However, the largest export sector is tourism, which in 2003 accounted for 34.8% of total exports of goods and services. Its vulnerability to external shocks includes the real possibility that the nine low-lying coral islands that constitute the country could disappear beneath a rising ocean level as one of the effects of global warming. Already, thousands in this rather densely populated country have been displaced by ocean swamping parts of the land.
In the meantime, the economy has been kept afloat by two more fortunate developments: the success of the Tuvalu Trust Fund (TTF) and proceeds from the sale of Tuvalu's internet address, ".tv." The Trust Fund was set up in 1987 with a$27 million derived from contributions from Tuvalu, Australia (the largest donor at a$8 million), New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, with smaller grants from Japan and South Korea. Helped by occasional lump sum contributions from Australia, and modest withdrawals by Tuvalu, the TTF had grown to a$37 million by 1999. The TTF was valued at more than a$70 million in 2006. The government derives about one-fourth of its revenues from returns on Trust Fund investments. More unique are the profits the government has been able to derive from its internet domain name. In 1990, the government leased the right to the suffix. tv to Idealab, a California company, for a$90 million over 12 years, retaining a 20% share in the. tv Corporation. Some of the funds generated have been put in other investments and some have been used for infrastructure projects like airport development, electrification, and the construction of roads, office buildings and hospitals. The corporation. tv became a major shareholder in Air Fiji, which has exclusive flying rights to Tuvalu. In January 2002. tv Corp. became a wholly owned subsidiary of VeriSign Corp. which bought it for us$45 million in an agreement by which Tuvalu maintains control of the management of its domain name. Returns from. tv Corp. have been highly variable. The United Nations ranks Tuvalu among the least-developed countries.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Tuvalu's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at us$12.2 million. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at us$1,100. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 3%. The average inflation rate in 2000 was 5%.
The estimated workforce numbered 7,000 in 2001. The economy relies primarily on subsistence ventures including fishing, and gathering coconuts. Many laborers work abroad and send wages home. In Funafuti, the government-controlled philately bureau is the largest single employer, with a staff of several dozen workers. There is no data on Tuvalu's unemployment rate. The nation's only trade union, the Tuvalu Seamen's Union, has about 600 members who work abroad on foreign merchant vessels. The nearly 1,000 public employees in Tuvalu were not unionized as of 2002, but do belong to associations. The law protects the right to strike, but no strike has ever occurred.
The minimum working age is 14 (15 for industrial employment). Generally children do not work outside of the traditional economy. The minimum age for shipboard employment is 18. As of 2002, the biweekly minimum wage was us$75.66. The law sets the workday at eight hours. Basic health and safety standards, such as clean drinking water, are mandated by law but irregularly enforced.
Although agriculture is the principal occupation, it contributes only 26% to the GDP. Agriculture is limited because of poor soil quality (sand and rock fragments), uncertain rains, and primitive catchment. Coconuts form the basis of both subsistence and cash cropping; the coconut yield in 2004 was about 1,600 tons. Other food crops are pulaka (taro), pandanus fruit, bananas, and papayas.
The Agricultural Division, based on Vaitupu, has attempted to improve the quality and quantity of livestock to lessen the islands' dependency on imports. Pigs and fowl, which were imported in the 19th century, have been supplanted by goats and rabbits. In 2005, there were some 45,000 chickens and 13,500 pigs on the islands. Honey is also produced.
Sea fishing, especially for tuna and turtle, is excellent. Although fishing is mainly a subsistence occupation, fish is sold in the capital, and b ê che-de-mer is exported. The fish catch in 2003 was 1,505 tons, up from around 500 tons annually between 1997 and 2001. Japanese aid in 1982 provided a commercial fishing vessel for the islands. The Republic of Korea and Taiwan are both licensed to fish within the territorial waters of Tuvalu. In October 1986, Tuvalu, along with several other Pacific island nations, signed an agreement with the United States giving US tuna boats the right to fish its offshore waters. The sale of fishing licenses annually contributes about a$80,000 to the government's revenues. Fishery exports amounted to us$301,000 in 2003.