TUVALU





Saufatu Sopoanga
Prime Minister

(pronounced "SAW-fa-too SEW-powan-Ga")

"Economic gains through trade and globalization must not be pursued at the expense of increased poverty and environmental degradation and worsening of global warming and sea level rise."

The remote Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu consists of a chain of nine atolls situated a few degrees south of the equator and just west of the international date line. Its nearest neighbors are Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands) to the north, Rotuma and Wallis Island to the south, the Solomon Islands to the west, and Tokelau to the east. The Tuvaluan islands stretch over a distance of 560 km (350 mi). From north to south, they are Nanumea, Niutau, Nanumanga, Nui, Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti, Nukulaelae, and Niutaka. The last of these has not had a permanent population, so "Tuvalu" means "group of eight." The islands rise no higher than 6 m (less than 20 ft) above sea level. The total land mass is less than 26 sq km (approximately 10 sq mi), making Tuvalu second only to Nauru as the smallest Pacific Island state. However, Tuvalu's Exclusive Economic Zone, including fishing rights, extends over 898,700 sq km (347,000 sq mi), creating one of the country's major economic resources and giving Tuvalu the world's largest sea-to-land ratio. From March to November the weather is warm; the rainy season extends from November to March.

The population of Tuvalu was estimated at 11,146 in2002. Ninety-five percent of the people are Polynesian, with the remainder being mostly Micronesian. Most Tuvaluans are members of the Tuvalu Christian Church—the local version of Protestantism originally brought to the islands in the 1860s by the London Missionary Society. Other religious affiliations include Seventh-Day Adventist and Baha'i. Except on Nui, where a dialect of I-Kiribati is spoken, the national language is Tuvaluan. English is the official language of government.

The Tuvaluan dollar is the unit of currency, convertible at par with the Australian dollar . The capital and administrative center is Fongatale on the island of Funafuti. Since 1980, migration to Funafuti has shifted the population so that the island is now home to some 45% of Tuvaluans. This rural-to-urban shift has been accompanied by a rapid shrinkage of the traditional activities of agriculture and fishing, although copra production remains one of the few sources of cash income for outer islanders. In 2000, the per capita gross domestic product (GDP) was reported to be $1,100. In February 2000, proceeds from a deal with a Toronto, Canada, company (Information.ca.Corp.) to license the Tuvalu ".tv" domain names for US $1,000 each reportedly doubled Tuvalu's GDP.

There are more skilled laborers than jobs on Tuvalu. Government jobs are almost the sole source of steady wages or salaries for the 30% of the labor force participating in the formal wage economy. The primary economic activities on the outer islands are subsistence farming in poor soil and fishing, both occupying 70% of the remaining labor force. Remittances from sailors are a major source of income. In 2002, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved assistance to upgrade the Tuvalu Maritime Training Institute, which trains seamen to work aboard foreign vessels, the large container ships. Annually, German-owned ships employ about 500 Tuvalu men as sailors. Another 300 sailors are on leave between the demanding 12-plus-month cruises. The phosphate mining industry in Nauru has employed about 1,000 Tuvaluans, but as phosphate resources run out Tuvaluans are repatriated.

Government revenues largely come from the sale of stamps and coins, fishing licenses, income from the Tuvalu Trust Fund (TTF), worker remittances, and Tuvalu's ".tv" Internet domain name. Tourism includes on the average fewer than 1,000 visits annually. The TTF provides much of Tuvalu's income, roughly 11% of the annual government budget since1990. The TTF was established in 1987 with initial grants from the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. These grants were subsequently increased with contributions from Japan, South Korea, and Tuvalu itself. The fund was originally designed to help balance the total government budget, though balance-of-payment deficits continue to be financed by aid funds. Careful management of the fund's investments has produced an annual average return of 6.5%. This has permitted an expansion of social services, such as free public education through eighth grade. In the late 1990s and early twenty-first century, substantial revenue has been generated for the country through licensing of both the country's area code and Internet domain.

A 1997 United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF) report found the status of Tuvalu's women and children to be higher than that in some larger Pacific countries. In 2001, the ADB approved a new aid strategy for Tuvalu. Based on Tuvalu's relatively low poverty rate, the plan stressed making investments in the private sector and supporting financial sector restructuring.

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

International information sources listed no details on Sopoanga's personal life as of April 2003.

ADDRESS

Office of the Prime Minister
Private Mail Bag
Vaiaku
Funafuti,
Tuvalu
Telephone: (+688) 20100

Read about the Culture of Tuvalu. More about Tuvalu's Culture.

Read about the Geography of Tuvalu.

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