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Tuvalu Country Facts - Tips

Thu, 8 Jul 2010 00:41:49

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

Background Note: Tuvalu

A woman sweeps road as a man passes
on his scooter in Funafuti, Tuvalu,
March 22, 2004. [? AP Images]

Flag of Tuvalu is light blue with flag of U.K. in upper hoist-side quadrant;
outer half of flag represents map of the country with nine yellow
five-pointed stars symbolizing the nine islands.



Area: 26 sq. km.
Capital: Funafuti.
Terrain: Very low lying and narrow coral atolls.
Climate: Tropical; moderated by easterly trade winds (March-November);
westerly gales and heavy rain (November-March).

Nationality: Noun--Tuvaluan (s); adjective--Tuvaluan.
Population (2006 est.): 10,000. Age structure (2004 est.)--36% under 14; 6%
over 65.
Growth rate (2004 est.): 1.44%.
Ethnic groups: Polynesians 96%, Micronesians 4%.
Religion: Church of Tuvalu (Congregationalist) 97%; Seventh-day Adventist
1.4%, Baha'I 1%, other 0.6%.
Languages: Tuvaluan, English, Samoan, Kiribati (on the island of Nui) also
Education (2004): Literacy--95%.
Health (2004): Life expectancy--total 61.5 yrs.; male 61 yrs; female 62.
Infant mortality rate (2004)--36/1,000.
Work force (2004 est.): total 6,000; formal sector 2,400.

Type: Constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy.
Independence (from U.K.): October 1, 1978.
Constitution: October 1, 1978.
Branches: Executive--Governor General is appointed by the British monarch on
recommendation of the Prime Minister, who is head of the government.
Legislative--unicameral Parliament, also called House of Assembly (15 seats;
members elected by popular vote to serve 4-year term). Judicial--High Court
with eight Island Courts (with limited jurisdiction). Rulings from High Court
can be appealed to the Court of Appeal in Fiji.
Major political parties: None.

Economy (all figures in U.S. $)
GDP (2005 est.): $20 million.
GDP per capita (2005 est.): $2,000.
Industry: Types--fishing, tourism (government and NGO officials on business),
Trade: Exports (2005 est.)--$61,400; stamps, copra, handicrafts. Major
markets--Fiji, Australia, New Zealand. Imports (2005 est.)--$12.9 million;
prepared foodstuffs, mineral products, machinery, animals and animal
products. Major sources--Australia, Fiji, Singapore, New Zealand.
Currency: Australian dollar (A$).

The Western Pacific nation of Tuvalu, formerly known as the Ellice Islands,
is situated 4,000 kilometer (2,486 mi.) northeast of Australia. It is
half-way from Hawaii to Australia. Tuvalu consists of four reef islands and
five true atolls, with poor soil and a total land area of only about 26 sq.
km. (10 sq. mi.).

Tuvalu has westerly gales and heavy rain from November to March and tropical
temperatures moderated by easterly winds from March-November. The land is
very low lying with narrow coral atolls. The highest elevation is five meters
above sea level.

96% of Tuvaluans are ethnic Polynesians, closely related to the people of
Samoa and Tonga. The vast majority belong to the Church of Tuvalu, a
Protestant denomination. Conversion began in the 1860s with the arrival of a
Congregationalist missionary from the Cook Islands.

The Spanish were the first Europeans to see the islands in the 1500s.
However, in 1819, Captain De Peyster, an American in command of the British
merchant ship Rebecca named the main island in the group Ellice's Island
after a British politician who owned the cargo aboard his ship. In 1841, the
U.S. Exploring Expedition commanded by Charles Wilkes visited three of
Tuvalu's islands and welcomed visitors to his ships. Other early interactions
with the outside world were far less benign. In 1863, hundreds of people from
the southern islands were kidnapped when they were lured aboard slave ships
with promises that they would be taught about Christianity. Those islanders
were forced to work under horrific conditions in the guano mines of Peru.

Eventually, the islands came under British influence in the late 19th
century. The Ellice Islands were administered by Britain as part of a
protectorate (1892-1916) and later as part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands
colony (1916-74).

During World War II, several thousand American troops were in the islands.
Beginning in October 1942, U.S. forces built airbases on the islands of
Funafuti, Nanumea, and Nukufetau. Friendly cooperation was the hallmark of
relations between the local people and the troops, mainly U.S. Marines and
U.S. Navy SeaBees. The airstrip in the capital of Funafuti, originally built
by the U.S. during the war, is still in use, as is the "American Passage"
that was blasted through Nanumea's reef by SeaBees assisted by local divers.

In 1974 the Ellice Islanders voted for separate British dependency status as
Tuvalu, separating from the Gilbert Islands, which became Kiribati upon
independence. Tuvalu became fully independent in 1978 and in 1979 signed a
treaty of friendship with the United States, which recognized Tuvalu's
possession of four islets formerly claimed by the United States.

Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented by the Governor General,
who is appointed by the Queen on advice of the Prime Minister. Members of the
Parliament elect the Prime Minister. The Cabinet is appointed by the Governor
General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The legislative branch is a
unicameral Parliament, also called House of Assembly (15 seats; members
elected by popular vote to serve 4-year terms).

Tuvalu maintains an independent judiciary consisting of a High Court and
eight island courts. The rulings of the High Court can be appealed to the
Tuvalu Court of Appeal.

Principal Government Officials
Head of State (Governor General)--Filoimea Telito
Head of the Government (Prime Minister)--Apisai Ielemia (also Minister for
Foreign Affairs and Labor)
Ambassador to the United Nations--Afelee F. Pita

Tuvalu maintains a diplomatic mission in New York at 800 2nd Ave, Suite 400B
New York, New York 10017 (tel: 212-490-0534; fax: 212-937-0692).

Democratic values in Tuvalu are strong, with free elections every 4 years by
universal adult suffrage. There are no formal political parties; election
campaigns are largely on the basis of home island/personal/family ties and

Members of Parliament have very close ties to the islands they represent.
Often the northern islands in the country compete against the southern
islands, with the capital isle of Funafuti holding the balance of power.
Traditional chiefs and island councils also still play significant roles in
influencing island affairs, particularly on the outer islands. A long-held
distinction between chiefs and commoners is slowly disappearing, and chiefs
are now more often selected on merit rather than by birth.

Tuvalu has had a number of prime ministers. This in part reflects the
pressures affecting the small nation, including the transition from an
exchange economy to a money economy, an adopted system of government with
only limited regard for Tuvaluan traditions of decision making, and the lack
of a clear national path to implement Tuvalu's vision for the future.

After elections in August 2006, Apisai Ielemia, a former opposition member of
Parliament, became Prime Minister. He replaced Maatia Toafa, who took power
in October 2004 after a vote of no confidence against his predecessor. Apisai
Ielemia is the tenth Prime Minister of Tuvalu. He also holds the portfolio of
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Labor.

The economy suffers from Tuvalu's remoteness and lack of natural resources.
Virtually the only jobs in the islands that pay a steady wage or salary are
with the government, and nearly 70 percent of the formal workforce is
employed in the public sector. Subsistence farming and fishing remain the
primary economic activities, particularly away from the capital island of
Funafuti. There is relatively little disparity between rich and poor in the

The Australian dollar (A$) is the currency of Tuvalu. Tuvalu's GDP per capita
was about U.S.$2,000 in 2005. Only about one third of the labor force
participates in the formal wage economy. The remaining 70% work primarily in
rural subsistence and livelihood activities. There is growing youth
unemployment and few new jobs are being created.

Some 900-1,000 Tuvaluan men are trained, certified and active as seafarers.
The Asian Development Bank estimates that, at any one time, about 15 percent
of the adult male population works abroad as seafarers. Remittances from
seafarers (estimated at U.S. $1.5-3 million per annum) are a major source of
income for families in the country, and there is a steady annual uptake of
young Tuvaluan men to the Tuvalu Maritime Training Institute.

The Tuvalu Trust Fund (TTF), a prudently managed overseas investment fund,
has contributed roughly 11% of the annual government budget each year since
1990. The TTF was created from donations by Australia, New Zealand and the
United Kingdom (along with Tuvalu's own contribution) at independence. The
TTF has grown from about A$27 million to some A$100 million (est. 2006).
Earnings from the TTF provide an important cushion against Tuvalu's volatile
income from fishing license fees and royalties from the sale of the dot-TV
Internet domain. Initial windfall income from the domain name paid most of
the costs of paving the streets of Funafuti and installing street lighting in
mid-2002. Sales of national stamps and coins provide another minor source of
income for the government. Tuvalu is a safe country of unspoiled natural
beauty and friendly people, but remoteness and lack of infrastructure have
constricted Tuvalu's ability to develop its tourism potential.

Tuvalu maintains an independent but generally pro-Western foreign policy. It
maintains close relations with Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. It has
diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which maintains the only resident embassy
in Tuvalu and has a large assistance program in the islands. There is no U.S.
embassy in Tuvalu, but U.S. diplomats from the U.S. embassy in Fiji are
accredited to Tuvalu and visit there regularly.

Tuvalu became a member of United Nations in 2000 and maintains a mission at
the UN in New York. Tuvalu's only other diplomatic office is its High
Commission in Suva, Fiji. Tuvalu is an active member of the Pacific Islands
Forum and a member of the Asian Development Bank.

A major international priority for Tuvalu in the UN and other international
fora has been promoting concern about global warming and possible sea level
rise. Tuvalu advocates ratification and implementation of the Kyoto Protocol.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Larry M. Dinger
Deputy Chief of Mission--Ted A. Mann
Political/Economic/Commercial Affairs--Brian J. Siler
Consul--Debra J. Towry
Management Officer--Ila S. Jurisson
Regional Environmental Officer--Joseph P. Murphy
Regional Security Officer--Jim T. Suor

The U.S. Embassy in Fiji, also accredited to Tuvalu, is located at 31 Loftus
Street, Suva. Tel: 679-331-4466. Fax: 679-330-0081. The mailing address is
U.S. Embassy, P.O. Box 218, Suva, Fiji.

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
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Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about
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pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
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For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad
should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet
web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, 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 http://www.travel.state.gov. For
additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/

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
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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 http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm 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://
www.state.gov, 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 http://www.osac.gov

Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market
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STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides
authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from
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