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Tuvalu is with a land area of 26 km² after the Vatican, Monaco and Nauru the fourth smallest state in the world. The sea area belonging to the nine atolls is 1.3 million square kilometres. Tuvalu, also known as Ellice Islands, is about 3,000 km north-east of Australia. The nine atolls are called Nanumea, Niutao, Nanumanga, Nui, Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti, Nukulaelae and Niulakita. Tuvalu also has around 120 small islands. The capital Vaiaku is located on Funafuti.

Hardly any point on one of the islands rises above 3 m above sea level. As a result, Tuvalu – like many other island groups in the Pacific – is threatened by rising sea levels due to global warming.

Population

Tuvalu has around 11 500 inhabitants, 91 % of whom are Polynesians. The population density is high with an average of 442 inhabitants per square kilometre, more than half of the people live on the main atoll Funafuti. Around 2,000 Tuvaluans live abroad (mostly in Nauru). About 97 % of the population are Protestants and belong to the Church of Tuvalu, in addition there are smaller minorities of Catholics and followers of the Bahai faith. Besides English, Tuvalu is spoken, both languages are official languages. Minorities communicate in Samoan and Kiribati.

There is compulsory schooling for children from the age of six, and there is a primary school on each of the nine atolls. The literacy rate is about 95%. Traditionally, the family and the village community play an important role in social life. Population growth is moderate at 2.5%; life expectancy on the islands averages 68 years.

Political system

According to the 1978 constitution, Tuvalu is a parliamentary monarchy in the Commonwealth. Head of state is the British monarch Elisabeth II, who is represented by a governor general (since April 2010 Iakoba Italeli). The government is led by the Prime Minister elected by Parliament (since August 2013 Enele Sopoaga).

The legislative power lies with the unicameral parliament (Fale i Fono), whose 15 deputies are directly elected for four years. There are no parties.

The legal system is strongly influenced by British law, but is supplemented by local customary law. Tuvalu is divided into nine districts, corresponding to the nine main islands. Each atoll is administered by a so-called island council, which has decision-making authority in local matters.

Economy

On Tuvalu there are almost no mineral resources, traditionally the economy of the country is based on copra extraction and fishing. Tuvalu is on the UN list of the least developed countries in the world. A large part of the national budget is financed by development aid. One of the few sources of income is the sale of the Tuvalu extension for Internet websites, “.tv”, to a media company.

More than three quarters of the population work in agriculture and fishing, mainly to meet their own needs. The main products are copra (made from coconut, also for export), breadfruit, marsh taro and vegetables. Fishing is of great importance for the nutrition of the population and also for exports.

Tuvalu exports copra, fish and fishery products and simple wood products, especially to Fiji, Australia and Japan. Articles that have to be imported from the same countries include food, machinery and fuel. The rare Tuvalu stamps are in great demand among collectors all over the world.

One of the future sources of foreign exchange could be the hitherto underdeveloped tourism sector (the airport at Funafuti was expanded with EU funds). Around 95% of the island’s total electricity is generated from solar power. The main currency is the Australian dollar (= 100 cents), although there is also a Tuvalu dollar.