Tuvalu is a group of nine tiny islands in the South Pacific which won independence from the United Kingdom in 1978.
Five of the islands are coral atolls, the other four consist of land rising from the sea bed.
Formerly known as the Ellice Islands, all are low-lying, with no point on Tuvalu being higher than 4.5m above sea level. Local politicians have campaigned against climate change, arguing that it could see the islands swamped by rising sea levels.
Life on the islands is simple and often harsh. There are no streams or rivers, so the collection of rain is essential.
Coconut palms cover most of the islands, and copra – dried coconut kernel – is practically the only export commodity. Increasing salination of the soil threatens traditional subsistence farming.
Tuvalu has shown ingenuity by exploiting another source of income. It has sold its internet suffix – .tv – to a Californian company for several million dollars a year in continuing revenue. The company sells the suffix on to television broadcasters.
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor-general
Prime Minister: Enele Sosene Sopoaga
Enele Sosene Sopoaga was appointed prime minister in August 2013, succeeding Willy Telavi who was dismissed by the governor-general for his failure to convene parliament for eight months.
The younger brother of former Prime Minister Saufatu Sopoaga, he served as a civil servant and diplomat before entering politics in 2010. He has been one of the most prominent spokesmen for his country on climate change in his various capacities as ambassador to the UN, foreign minister and head of the Tuvaluan delegation to the Cancun international climate change conference in 2010.
Tuvalu has no political parties. Allegiances revolve around personalities and geography. The 15-member parliament is popularly elected every four years. The prime minister is chosen by MPs.
Many islanders use satellite dishes to watch foreign TV stations.
Some key dates in Tuvalu’s history:
14th century AD – Samoans, Tongans and settlers from other Polynesian islands migrate to the islands
1568 and 1595 – Spaniard Alvaro Mendana de Neyra sights the islands of Nui and Niulakita on two separate expeditions.
1819 – A ship owned by British MP Edward Ellice visits Funafuta. The captain names the island Ellice Island. Later this name was applied to all nine atolls.
1850-75 – “Blackbirding” – the kidnapping of islanders for forced labour on plantations in Fiji and Queensland – and the introduction of European diseases reduces the population from 20,000 to 3,000. In 1863 Peruvian slave traders kidnap 400 islanders – nearly two-thirds of the population of the islands of Funafuti and Nukulaelae.
1892 – Britain declares a joint protectorate over the Ellice Islands and the Gilbert Islands.
1975 – Ellice Islands become a separate British dependency, under the pre-colonial name of Tuvalu meaning “eight standing together” which refers to the eight populated atolls.
1978 – Independence.
1989 – UN lists Tuvalu as one of a number of island groups most likely to disappear beneath the sea in the 21st century because of global warming.
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