Tuvalu

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Tuvalu
Image:LocationTuvalu.png
Flag of Tuvalu Tuvalu Coat of Arms
Flag of Tuvalu Coat of Arms of Tuvalu
National anthem Tuvalu mo te Atua
( Tuvaluan: "Eight Standing Together for the Almighty")
Languages Tuvaluan, English
Capitals
Vaiaku (village; Gov.),
Fongafale (islet), Funafuti (atoll)
Queen Elizabeth II
Governor-General Filoimea Telito
Prime Minister Maatia Toafa
Independence
From the U.K.
October 1, 1978
Area
– Total
– % water
Ranked 191th
26 km²
Negligible
Population
– Total
Density
Ranked 193rd
11,636 (July 2005 est.)
441/km²
HDI (2003) NA – unranked
Currency Australian dollar
Time zone UTC +12
Calling Code 688
Internet TLD .tv

Tuvalu is an island nation located in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australia. Its name means "Eight Standing Together" in Tuvaluan. With the exception of tiny Vatican City, it has the smallest number of inhabitants among independent nations. Tuvalu was formerly known as the Ellice Islands or Lagoon Islands.

Due to their low elevation (5 meters, or 16 feet maximum), the islands that make up this nation are threatened by any future sea level rise. The population may evacuate during the next decades to New Zealand, or Niue, a small Pacific island (autonomous but associated with New Zealand) that isn't threatened by sea level rise, but does have decreasing population. The Fijian island of Kioa, already leased by people from Tuvalu, is another possible destination.

History

Tuvaluans are a Polynesian people who are estimated to have settled the islands around 2,000 years ago. During pre-contact times, there was frequent canoe voyaging between the nearer islands.

Tuvalu was first sighted by Europeans in 1568 with the arrival of Alvaro de Mendaña y Neyra from Spain, who encountered the island of Nui but was unable to land. No other Europeans turned up again until the late 1700s, when further European explorers reached the area. By the early 1800s, whalers were in the Pacific, though visiting Tuvalu only infrequently due to the difficulties of landing ships on the atoll, and no settlements were established by them. Peruvian slave raiders (" blackbirders") combed the Pacific between 1862 and 1864 and Tuvalu was one of the hardest-hit Pacific island groups with over 400 people taken from Funafuti and Nukulaelae, none of whom returned. In 1865, the London Missionary Society, Protestant congregationalists, began their process of evangelization of Tuvalu, and conversion to Christianity was complete by the 1920s. Also in the late 1800s, European traders began to live on the islands hoping to profit from local resources. Europeans brought diseases new to the Pacific which caused many deaths in Tuvalu.

In 1892, the islands became part of the British protectorate of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, with Tuvalu being called the Ellice Islands. The protectorate became a colony in 1915. In 1943 during World War II, Tuvalu was selected as an operations base for Allied forces battling the Japanese in the Pacific. Thousands of marines were stationed there until December 1945. In 1974, ethnic differences within the colony caused the Polynesians of the Ellice Islands to vote for separation from the Micronesians of the Gilbert Islands (later Kiribati). The following year, the Ellice Islands became the separate British colony of Tuvalu. Independence was granted in 1978. Tuvalu Independence Day is celebrated on the 1st of October.

Politics

Tuvalu islands is a constitutional monarchy and Commonwealth Realm, with Queen Elizabeth II recognised as Queen of Tuvalu. She is represented in Tuvalu by a Governor-General, who is appointed upon the advice of the prime minister.

The local parliament, or Fale I Fono, has 15 members and is chosen every four years. Its members elect a prime minister, who is the head of government. Some elders also exercise informal authority on a local level.

Atolls, islands or districts

Map of Tuvalu
Map of Tuvalu

Although Tuvalu technically has no administrative subdivisions - its population is too small (estimated at 11,000 in 2004) - the country can be divided into 9 atolls.

Atolls consisting of more than one island
  • Funafuti
  • Nanumea
  • Nui
  • Nukufetau
  • Nukulaelae
  • Vaitupu
Atolls consisting of only one island
  • Nanumaga
  • Niulakita
  • Niutao

The smallest island, Niulakita, was uninhabited until it was resettled by people from Niutao in 1949. Thus, the name Tuvalu means "eight standing together" in the Tuvaluan language.

Geography

Tuvalu is one of the smallest countries in the world, in fact, the fourth smallest. Tuvalu also has very poor lands. There is almost no potable water, and the soil is hardly usable for agriculture.

In 2001, Tuvalu's government announced that the islands, whose highest point is 5 m above sea level, may need to be evacuated in the event of rising sea levels. New Zealand has agreed to accept an annual quota of 75 evacuees, while Australia has declined the Tuvaluans' petitions.

Economy

Tuvalu has almost no natural resources, and its main form of income consists of foreign aid. Main industries are fishing and tourism, even though, due to the remote location of the islands, only a small number of tourists arrive annually.

Government revenues largely come from the sale of stamps and coins and worker remittances. About 1,000 Tuvaluans work in Nauru in the phosphate mining industry. Nauru has begun repatriating Tuvaluans, however, as phosphate resources decline. Substantial income is received annually from an international trust fund established in 1987 by Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom and supported also by Japan and South Korea. Thanks to wise investments and conservative withdrawals, this Fund grew from an initial $17 million to over $35 million in 1999. The US government is also a major revenue source for Tuvalu, with 1999 payments from a 1988 treaty on fisheries at about $9 million, a total which is expected to rise annually. In an effort to reduce its dependence on foreign aid, the government is pursuing public sector reforms, including privatization of some government functions and personnel cuts of up to 7%.

In 1998, Tuvalu began deriving revenue from use of its area code for "900" lines and from the sale of its " .tv" Internet domain name. In 2000, Tuvalu negotiated a contract leasing its Internet domain name " .tv" for $50 million in royalties. However, the Canadian entrepreneur who negotiated the deal, Jason Chapnik, was unable to raise the $50 million in the contracted time period, and the contract eventually fell into other hands. Royalties from these new technology sources could raise GDP three-fold or more over the next decade, but it is not likely to reach the lofty numbers which Tuvalu was initially promised.

Low-lying Tuvalu is particularly vulnerable to any rise in the sea level from future climate change. In mid-February 2004, unusually high tides caused seepage that transformed much of the interior into a salty lake, harming root crops.

The Tuvaluan dollar, the local currency, is coupled to the Australian dollar.

Demographics

The population of Tuvalu is primarily of Polynesian ethnicity. About 97% of the Tuvaluans are members of the Church of Tuvalu, a Protestant Christian church. The religion has been mixed with some elements of the indigenous religions.

The Tuvaluan language is spoken by virtually everyone, while Gilbertese is spoken by some people on Nui. English is also an official language, but is not spoken in daily use.

The island population has more than doubled since 1980 and is estimated to have reached 11,000 by 2004. The population boom may be a contributing factor to the environmental devastation on the islands.

As of 2005, the population is estimated to be 11,636. CIA World Factbook

Culture

The traditional community system still to a large extent survives on Tuvalu. Each family has its own task, or salanga, to perform for the community, such as fishing, house building or defence. The skills of a family are passed on from father to son.

  • Music of Tuvalu

Controversy over Climate Change

As a low lying island lacking a surrounding shallow shelf, the island communities of Tuvalu are especially susceptible to changes in sea level and storm patterns that hit the island undissipated. Over the past decade, the islands have seen a disappearance of 10 feet of beachfront and an increase in the severity and frequency of storms. Tuvaluans are worried about the submerging of the islands and a growing number have left the island. In 2002, then-Prime Minister Koloa Talake announced plans to sue the United States and Australia at the International Court of Justice in the Hague over their disproportionate production of carbon dioxide emissions. The suit was never filed because Talake failed in his bid to be re-elected later that year, but the potential suit garnered great media attention.

While blaming the island's problems on climate change has gained the island much publicity, there are other factors that affect it. One of these is the population boom on a resource-scarce island which has wreaked environmental damage. Since 1980, the population of Funafuti has more than doubled from 2,000 to 4,500 or almost half of Tuvalu's citzenry. Another major factor contributing to gradual sinking of the island and salinization of its fresh water source is the consequences of runway construction (contructed by the Americans during WWII), which has brought a sizable part of island's area within inches of sea level and caused significant damage to the island's coralline base.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a substantial number of people from Tuvalu settled on the Fijian island of Kioa. They and their descendants were granted Fijian citizenship in 2005. In February 2006, at a climate refugee forum in Melbourne, Don Kennedy, a retired Tuvalu-born Australian scientist, suggested the entire population of Tuvalu should relocate to Kioa. Prime Minister Maatia Toafa said that the idea was under consideration, but was not a priority and was one of a number of options, the others including purchasing land in Australia or New Zealand. If the Kioa option were adopted, Tuvaluans would need finance to develop the island, the Fiji Live news service quoted him as saying.

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