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The Commonwealth
Tuvalu


Region:

Pacific

Did you know:

With populations of about 10,000, Tuvalu and Nauru are the smallest Commonwealth member nations. They are also two of the world’s smallest democracies.

Although Tuvalu had already fielded teams at the Commonwealth Games, the country only made its first appearance in an Olympic Games at Beijing in August 2008.

Tuvalu has been able to capitalise on its fortune in having rights to the highly marketable internet domain of ‘.tv’.

Key facts

Joined Commonwealth: 1978
Population: 10,000 (2013)
GDP: 1.7% p.a. 1990–2013
Timezone: GMT plus 12hr
Currency: Australian dollar; Tuvaluan dollar

Geography

Area: 26 sq km, although the atolls extend in a chain 595 km long.
Coastline: 24km
Capital city: Funafuti
Population density (per sq. km): 385

Tuvalu, formerly the Ellice Islands, is a group of atolls lying south of the equator in the western Pacific Ocean, south of Kiribati and north of Fiji. Funafuti, the main island and capital, lies 1,046 km north of Suva, Fiji. The other islands are Nanumanga, Nanumea, Niulakita, Niutao, Nui, Nukufetau, Nukulaelae and Vaitupu.

Main towns:

Vaiaku (on Funafuti, 5,100 in 2010), Asau (on Vaitupu, 650), Lolua (on Nanumea, 570), Savave (on Nukufetau, 520) and Kua (on Niutao, 480).

Transport:

Tuvalu has only a few roads (total extent 8 km) and, before 2002 when tarring was completed, these were made from impacted coral and supplemented by dirt tracks.

There is a deep-water lagoon at Funafuti, which ships are able to enter at Nukufetau. The islands are served by a passenger and cargo vessel, based at Funafuti, which occasionally calls at Suva, Fiji. Ships from Fiji, Australia and New Zealand call at Funafuti.

The only airfield is on Funafuti, at the eastern tip of the island. In 1992 a new runway was completed with Commonwealth technical assistance and international funding, replacing the old grass airstrip. There are scheduled flights from Majuro in the Marshall Islands, Tarawa in Kiribati, and Nadi and Suva in Fiji.

International relations:

Tuvalu is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, Pacific Community, Pacific Islands Forum and United Nations.

Topography:

The islands seldom rise higher than 4.5 metres above sea level. Five islands have large lagoons that are enclosed within the coral reef. The remaining four islands are pinnacles of land rising up solid from the seabed. Most people live on the island of Funafuti, on Funafuti Atoll.

Climate:

The mean annual temperature is 30°C, with little seasonal variation, though March to October tends to be cooler. Humidity is high. Trade winds blow from the east for much of the year. Although the islands are north of the recognised hurricane belt, severe cyclones struck in 1894, 1972 and 1990. Rainfall is high, averaging 3,535 mm p.a. The wettest season is November to February.

Environment:

There are no streams or rivers in the country and ground water is not safe to drink; water needs are met by catchment of rainwater and, increasingly, by desalination. The Japanese Government has built one desalination plant and plans to build another. Some 40 per cent of the island of Funafuti was severely damaged during World War II and is virtually uninhabitable. Other significant environmental issues are: beachhead erosion because of the removal of sand for building materials; excessive clearance of forest undergrowth for use as fuel; damage to coral reefs from the spread of the Crown of Thorns starfish; and rising sea level threatening the underground water table.

Vegetation:

The heavy rainfall provides more luxuriant vegetation than that on neighbouring Kiribati. Coconut palms cover most of the land. Forest covers 33 per cent of the land area and there was no significant loss of forest cover during 1990–2012.

Wildlife:

Lizards, turtles and several resident species of birds are the most notable forms of indigenous animal life. Birds include reef herons, white-tailed tropic-birds, terns and noddies.

History:

The population of Tuvalu, formerly known as the Ellice or Lagoon Islands, is thought to have dropped from 20,000 in 1850 to 3,000 in 1875, thanks to slave-traders and imported European diseases. The Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate was established by Britain in 1892 (the Gilbert Islands are now called Kiribati) and the protectorate became a colony in 1916.

A referendum held in 1974 established that most Ellice islanders wanted separate status from the Gilbert Islands. The country was renamed Tuvalu, an old name meaning ‘eight standing together’ (Tuvalu has nine islands or island groups, but one has very little land above sea level). The Ellice Islands became a separate British dependency in October 1975, and gained independence as Tuvalu on 1 October 1978.

Toaripi Lauti, Chief Minister of the Tuvalu House of Assembly from October 1975, was independent Tuvalu’s first Prime Minister (1978–81). He was succeeded by Dr Tomasi Puapua from 1981. Puapua was defeated in the September 1989 elections by Bikenibeu Paeniu.

In February 2000, the UN accepted Tuvalu as the organisation’s 189th member and in September 2000 it became a full member of the Commonwealth, having been a special member since it joined in 1978.

The September 1993 elections resulted in a deadlock, Puapua and Paeniu both receiving equal support in the new parliament. Puapua withdrew from the December 1993 elections and Paeniu was defeated by Kamuta Latasi, who became Prime Minister. In December 1996, the government was removed from power after an unexpected vote of no confidence gained the support of seven of the 12 members of parliament. In a subsequent secret parliamentary ballot, Paeniu was elected Prime Minister in preference to Latasi. In the general election of March 1998, seven assembly members were re-elected, the Prime Minister among them. Former Prime Minister Latasi was defeated in his Funafuti constituency. When parliament reconvened in April 1998 the members re-elected Paeniu as Prime Minister by ten votes to two.

In April 1999 Paeniu lost a no-confidence vote, and Education and Health Minister Ionatana Ionatana was elected by parliament to succeed him. Ionatana died suddenly in December 2000 and Deputy Prime Minister Lagitupu Tuilimu acted as Prime Minister until parliament elected Faimalaga Luka to the post in February 2001. Koloa Talake was chosen to succeed Luka as Prime Minister when, in December 2001, four MPs changed their allegiance.

In 2001 New Zealand agreed to accept an annual quota of Tuvaluans wishing to emigrate as the sea level rises, starting from 2002 and continuing for at least 30 years. In 2003 discussions were under way about emigration of Tuvaluans to Niue, where the population had declined due to emigration to New Zealand.

History Of Tuvalu

Tuvalu

The Island and Nation of Tuvalu & its capital Funafuti

Learn more about Tuvalu on The Commonwealth site Society, Economy, Constitution & politics, History and Travel.

Tuvalu island tales

TUVALU, the beautiful faces of its wonderful PEOPLE

The beauty of Tuvalu Island

Business in the Commonwealth
Web site of the Country


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