Vanuatu Country Facts - Tips

Vanuatu Country Facts Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
October 2007

Background Note: Vanuatu

Detail of 19th-century dance
sculptures from Malakula Island,
Vanuatu, June 19, 2006. [© AP Images]

Flag of Vanuatu is two equal horizontal bands of red (top) and green with a
black isosceles triangle (based on the hoist side) all separated by a
black-edged yellow stripe in the shape of a horizontal Y (the two points of
the Y face the hoist side and enclose the triangle); centered in the triangle
is a boar's tusk encircling two crossed namele leaves, all in yellow.


Republic of Vanuatu

Area: Land--12,190 sq. km. (4,707 sq. mi.), 83 Islands. Comparative
area--about the size of Connecticut.
Cities: Capital--Port Vila (on the island of Efate), pop. 33,700. Other
towns--Luganville (on the island of Espiritu Santo, also known as Santo).
Terrain: Mostly mountains of volcanic origin, narrow coastal plains.
Climate: Tropical.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--ni-Vanuatu.
Population (2006): 221,506.
Annual growth rate (2005 est.): 2.2%.
Ethnic groups: 94% ni-Vanuatu; 4% European; 2% other Pacific Islanders,
Religion: Predominantly Christian.
Languages: Bislama (Pidgin), English, French, over 100 tribal languages.
Education: Enrollment in primary is 100% with rapid fall-off to 20% in
secondary and upper secondary. Adult literacy rate (2005)--74% of those age
15 and older.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2005)--55.1/1,000. Life expectancy (2005)
--62.5 yrs.
Work force (1999): 134,000. Agriculture--65%. Industry--5%. Service--30%.

Type: Parliamentary democracy.
Independence: July 30, 1980.
Constitution: July 30, 1980.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state), prime minister (head of
government). Legislative--unicameral (52-member parliament).
Judicial--Supreme Court.
Administrative subdivisions: 6 administrative districts.
Political parties: Melanesian Progressive Party (MPP); Union of Moderate
Parties (UMP); National United Party (NUP); Vanua'aku Party (VP); Vanuatu
Republican Party (VRP); the Confederation of Greens (CG); John Frum group;
People's Progressive Party (PPP); National Community Association (NCA).
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
Independence Day: July 30.

GDP (2005): $343.6 million.
Per capita income (2005): $1,576.
Real growth rate (2005): 3.1%.
Avg. inflation rate (2005): 2.6%.
Natural resources: Forests, agricultural land, marine resources.
Agriculture: Products--copra, cocoa, coffee, cattle, timber.
Industry: Types--copra production, beef processing, sawmilling, tourism,
financial services.
Trade (2003): Exports--$135.27 million: coconut oil, copra, kava, beef. Major
markets--EU 44.9%, Australia 12.1%, Japan 6.8%, New Caledonia 4.6%.
Imports--$181.4 million: machines and transport equipment, food and live
animals, basic manufactures, mineral fuels. Major suppliers--Australia 42.5%,
New Zealand 13.0%, Fiji 8.6%, Singapore 6.2%.
Exchange rate (2005 avg.): 109.25 vatu=U.S.$1.

Vanuatu is a 'Y' shaped archipelago of 83 islands. It is located about 1,750
kilometers east of Australia. Fiji lies to the east, New Caledonia to the
south, and the Solomon Islands to the northwest, all within the area of the
South Pacific called Melanesia.

The two largest islands, Espiritu Santo (or Santo) and Malakula, account for
nearly one-half of the total land area. They are volcanic, with sharp
mountain peaks, plateaus, and lowlands. The larger islands of the remaining
half also are volcanic but are overlaid with limestone formations; the
smaller ones are coral and limestone. Volcanic activity is common with an
ever-present danger of a major eruption, the last of which occurred in 1945.
Rainfall averages about 2,360 millimeters (94 in.) per year but can be as
high as 4,000 millimeters (160 in.) in the northern islands.

The population of Vanuatu is 94% indigenous Melanesian. About 33,700 live in
the capital, Port Vila. Another 10,700 live in Luganville (or Santo Town) on
Espiritu Santo. The remainder live in rural areas. Approximately 2,000
ni-Vanuatu live and work in New Caledonia. Although local pidgin, called
Bislama, is the national language, English and French also are official
languages. Indigenous Melanesians speak 105 local languages.

Christianity has had a profound influence on ni-Vanuatu society, and an
estimated 90% of the population is affiliated with one of the Christian
denominations. The largest denominations are Presbyterian, Roman Catholic,
and Anglican. John Frum, a syncretic sect, also is important on Tanna Island.

The prehistory of Vanuatu is obscure; archaeological evidence supports the
commonly held theory that peoples speaking Austronesian languages first came
to the islands some 4,000 years ago. Pottery fragments have been found dating
back to 1300-1100 B.C.

The first island in the Vanuatu group discovered by Europeans was Espiritu
Santo, when in 1606 the Portuguese explorer, Pedro Fernandez De Quiros, spied
what he thought was a southern continent. Europeans did not return until
1768, when Louis Antoine de Bougainville rediscovered the islands. In 1774,
Captain Cook named the islands the New Hebrides, a name that lasted until

In 1825, trader Peter Dillon's discovery of sandalwood on the island of
Erromango began a rush that ended in 1830 after a clash between immigrant
Polynesian workers and indigenous Melanesians. During the 1860s, planters in
Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, and the Samoa Islands, in need of laborers,
encouraged a long-term indentured labor trade called "blackbirding." At the
height of the labor trade, more than one-half the adult male population of
several of the Islands worked abroad. Fragmentary evidence indicates that the
current population of Vanuatu is greatly reduced compared to pre-contact

It was at this time that missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, arrived
on the islands. Settlers also came, looking for land on which to establish
cotton plantations. When international cotton prices collapsed, they switched
to coffee, cocoa, bananas, and, most successfully, coconuts. Initially,
British subjects from Australia made up the majority, but the establishment
of the Caledonian Company of the New Hebrides in 1882 soon tipped the balance
in favor of French subjects. By the turn of the century, the French
outnumbered the British two to one.

The jumbling of French and British interests in the islands brought petitions
for one or another of the two powers to annex the territory. In 1906,
however, France and the United Kingdom agreed to administer the islands
jointly. Called the British-French Condominium, it was a unique form of
government, with separate governmental systems that came together only in a
joint court. Melanesians were barred from acquiring the citizenship of either

Challenges to this form of government began in the early 1940s. The arrival
of Americans during World War II, with their informal demeanor and relative
wealth, was instrumental in the rise of nationalism in the islands. The
belief in a mythical messianic figure named John Frum was the basis for an
indigenous cargo cult (a movement attempting to obtain industrial goods
through magic) promising Melanesian deliverance. Today, John Frum is both a
religion and a political party with a member in Parliament.

The first political party was established in the early 1970s and originally
was called the New Hebrides National Party. One of the founders was Father
Walter Lini, who later became Prime Minister. Renamed the Vanua'aku Pati in
1974, the party pushed for independence; in 1980, the Republic of Vanuatu was

The constitution created a republican political system headed by a president
who has primarily ceremonial powers and is elected by a two-thirds majority
in an electoral college consisting of members of Parliament and the
presidents of Regional Councils. The president serves a 5-year term. The
president may be removed by the Electoral College for gross misconduct or
incapacity. The prime minister, who is the head of government, is elected by
a majority vote of a three-fourths quorum of the Parliament. The prime
minister in turn appoints the Council of Ministers, whose number may not
exceed one-fourth of the number of parliamentary representatives. The prime
minister and the Council of Ministers constitute the executive government.

Parliament is a 52-member unicameral house elected by all persons over 18
years old. Parliament normally sits for a 4-year term unless dissolved by
majority vote of a three-fourths quorum or a directive from the president on
the advice of the prime minister. The national Council of Chiefs, called the
Malvatu Mauri and elected by district councils of chiefs, advises the
government on all matters concerning ni-Vanuatu culture and language.

The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and up to three other judges.
Two or more members of this court may constitute a Court of Appeal.
Magistrate courts handle most routine legal matters. The legal system is
based on British law. The constitution also provides for the establishment of
village or island courts presided over by chiefs to deal with questions of
customary law.

Principal Government Officials
President--Kalkot Matas Kelekele
Prime Minister--Ham Lini
Foreign Minister/Deputy Prime Minister--Sato Kilman

Vanuatu does not have an embassy in Washington. Its mission to the United
Nations is located at 866 UN Plaza, 4th Floor, Room 41, First Avenue and 48th
Street, New York, NY 10017. Vanuatu Maritime Services, which provides
information on ship registration in Vanuatu, is located at 120 Broadway,
Suite 1743, New York, NY 10271.

Government and society in Vanuatu tend to divide along linguistic--French and
English--lines. Historically, English-speaking politicians such as Walter
Lini and other leaders of the Vanua'aku Pati favored early independence,
whereas French-speaking political leaders favored continuing association with
the colonial administrators, particularly France.

On the eve of independence in 1980, Jimmy Stevens' Nagriamel movement, in
alliance with private French interests and backed by American libertarians
hoping to establish a tax-free haven, declared the island of Espiritu Santo
independent of the new government. Following independence, Vanuatu requested
assistance from Papua New Guinea, whose forces restored order on Santo. From
then until 1991, the Vanua'aku Pati and its predominantly English-speaking
leadership controlled the Vanuatu Government, and Walter Lini became widely
considered as the nation's founding father.

In December 1991, and following a split in the Vanua'aku Pati, Maxime Carlot
Korman, leader of the Francophone Union of Moderate Parties (UMP), was
elected Vanuatu's first Francophone prime minister. He formed a coalition
government with Walter Lini's breakaway VP faction, now named the National
United Party (NUP). From 1995-2004 government leadership changed frequently
due to unstable coalitions within the Parliament and within the major

The president dissolved Parliament in May 2004 to forestall a vote of no
confidence and called a special election that resulted in losses for most
major parties. UMP's leader, Serge Vohor, returned as Prime Minister at the
head of an unwieldy coalition government. Following controversy over Vohor's
attempt to extend diplomatic relations to Taiwan, he was ousted by a vote of
no confidence in December 2004 and replaced by Ham Lini, brother of Walter
Lini. The new coalition includes ten parties and features the former
opposition leader, Sato Kilman, as Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister.

Vanuatu's economy is primarily agricultural; 80% of the population is engaged
in agricultural activities that range from subsistence farming to smallholder
farming of coconuts and other cash crops. Copra is by far the most important
cash crop (making up more than 35% of the country's exports), followed by
timber, beef, and cocoa. Kava root extract exports also have become
important. In addition, the government has maintained Vanuatu's
preindependence status as a tax haven and international off-shore financial
center. About 2,000 registered institutions offer a wide range of offshore
banking, investment, legal, accounting, and insurance and trust-company
services. Vanuatu also maintains an international shipping register in New
York City. In 2002, following increasing international concern over money
laundering, Vanuatu increased oversight and reporting requirements for its
off-shore sector.

Coconut oil, copra, kava and beef account for more than 75% of Vanuatu's
total agricultural exports and agriculture accounts for approximately 20% of
GDP. Tourism is Vanuatu's fastest-growing sector, having comprised 40% of GDP
in 2000. Industry's portion of GDP declined from 15% to 10% between 1990 and
2000. Government consumption accounted for about 27% of GDP.

Vanuatu is a small country, with only a few commodities, mostly agricultural,
produced for export. In 2003, imports exceeded exports by a ratio of nearly 3
to 2. However, this was partially offset by high services income from
tourism, keeping the current account balance at $-28.4 million.

Vanuatu claims an exclusive economic zone of 680,000 square kilometers and
possesses substantial marine resources. Currently, only a limited number of
ni-Vanuatu are involved in fishing, while foreign fleets exploit this

In 1997 the government, with the aid of the Asian Development Bank, committed
itself to a 3-year comprehensive reform program. During the first year of the
program the government adopted a value-added tax, consolidated and reformed
government-owned banks, and started a 10% downsizing in the public service.
An important part of the reform installed career civil servants as Director
Generals in charge of each ministry, helping to ensure continuity of service
despite the frequent changes in government.

Vanuatu maintains relations with more than 65 countries, including Russia,
the People's Republic of China, Cuba, and Vietnam. However, only Australia,
France, New Zealand, and the People's Republic of China maintain embassies,
high commissions, or missions in Port Vila.

The government's main concern has been to bolster the economy. In keeping
with its need for financial assistance, Vanuatu has joined the Asian
Development Bank, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the
Agence de Cooperation Culturelle et Technique.

The government encourages private enterprise, foreign investment, and
producer cooperatives. Like other developing countries, Vanuatu is
particularly interested in enterprises that add value to local primary
products and that provide employment. In less lucrative sectors, the
government sets up its own production companies or enters joint ventures with
foreign investors.

Since 1980, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, and New Zealand have
provided the bulk of Vanuatu's development aid. A number of other countries,
including Japan, Canada, Germany, and various multilateral organizations,
such as the Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific, the UN
Development Program, the Asian Development Bank, the European Economic
Community, and the Commonwealth Development Corporation also provide
developmental aid. The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the
United Kingdom, and Japan also send volunteers. In March 2006 the United
States Millennium Challenge Corporation signed a five-year $65.69 million
Compact agreement with Vanuatu. Vanuatu retains strong economic and cultural
ties to Australia, New Zealand, and France.

Membership in International Organizations
Vanuatu is a member of the United Nations and its specialized and related
agencies, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund;
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC); Pacific Islands Forum (PIF);
Non-Aligned Movement; Commonwealth, Group of 77; and Asian Development Bank

The United States and Vanuatu established diplomatic relations in 1986.
Between 1977 and 1987, Vanuatu received just under $3 million from the U.S.
Agency for International Development (USAID), including projects focusing on
assisting the transition to indigenous plantation management. In June 1994,
the regional USAID office located in Suva, Fiji, was closed due to U.S.
Government budgetary cutbacks. The U.S. military retains training links and
conducts ad hoc assistance projects in Vanuatu.

In March 2006 the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation signed a
five-year $65.69 million Compact agreement with Vanuatu. The Millennium
Challenge Program is expected to increase average income per capita by 15%
within five years and directly impact the lives of more than 65,000 of the
rural poor in Vanuatu.

Vanuatu identified costly and unreliable transportation infrastructure as a
major impediment to economic growth. To overcome this constraint, the Compact
consists of up to eleven infrastructure projects--including roads, wharfs, an
airstrip and warehouses--that will help poor, rural agricultural producers
and providers of tourist related goods and services reduce transportation
costs and improve access to transportation services. The Compact also
includes institutional strengthening efforts and policy reform initiatives in
Vanuatu's Public Works Department, including: provision of plant and
equipment for maintenance; introduction of service performance contracts;
establishment of local community maintenance schemes; and introduction of
user fees.

The United States also remains a major financial contributor to international
and regional organizations that assist Vanuatu, including the World Bank,
UNICEF, WHO, the UN Fund for Population Activities, and the Asian Development

In 1989, the United States concluded a Peace Corps agreement with Vanuatu.
The Peace Corps has met with a warm welcome there and currently has over 80
volunteers in-country. The United States also provides military training

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Leslie Rowe (resident in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea)
Deputy Chief of Mission--Tom Weinz
Peace Corps Country Director--Kevin George
Millennium Challenge Country Director--Jeffry Stubbs

The mailing address of the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea is P.O. Box 1492,
Port Moresby (tel: 675-321-1455; fax: 675-321-3423). The Embassy maintains a
web site dedicated to relations with Vanuatu at

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans
traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public
Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency
regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about
terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that
pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad
should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet
web site at, where the current Worldwide Caution,
Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs
Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, are also available at For
additional information on international travel, see

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizenstraveling or residing
abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or
at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your
presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an
emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained
by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular
toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of
State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport
information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service
representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00
a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP
(877-394-8747) and a web site at give the
most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements,
and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A
booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS
publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://, the Department of State web site provides timely, global
access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background
Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of
Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies
working abroad through its website provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market
information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free
export counseling, help with the export process, and more.
STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides
authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from
the Federal government. The site includes current and historical
trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities,
and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank. ***********************************************************
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