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
Tuvalu has been able to capitalise on its fortune in having rights to
the highly marketable internet domain of ‘.tv’.
Joined Commonwealth: 1978
Population: 10,000 (2013)
GDP: 1.7% p.a. 1990–2013
Timezone: GMT plus 12hr
Currency: Australian dollar; Tuvaluan dollar
Area: 26 sq km, although the atolls extend in a chain 595 km long.
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.
Vaiaku (on Funafuti, 5,100 in 2010), Asau (on Vaitupu, 650), Lolua (on
Nanumea, 570), Savave (on Nukufetau, 520) and Kua (on Niutao, 480).
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.
Tuvalu is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of
States, Pacific Community, Pacific Islands Forum and United Nations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
The Island and Nation of
Tuvalu & its capital Funafuti
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