VANUATU



Edward Natapei
Prime Minister

(pronounced "ed-WAHRD naht-ah-PIE")

"Being prime minister is not an easy position. You are always having to look over your shoulder to see who is behind you."

The Republic of Vanuatu is the name that these South Pacific islands adopted when they became an independent nation in 1980. Formerly, the archipelago was known as the New Hebrides, the name given to them by the English explorer James Cook in 1774. The country is located 2,172 km (1,347 mi) northeast of Sydney, Australia. It lies within the geographic region known as Melanesia. Its closest neighbors are Fiji to the east, New Caledonia to the south, and the Solomon Islands to the northwest. There are some 80 islands in the archipelago, with a land area totaling 14,763 sq km (5,700 sq mi). The major islands are Efate, Espiritu Santo, Malekula, and Tanna, where 70% of the population lives.

The population was estimated at 196,178 in 2002. In the same year, the birth rate was 19 per 1,000 population, and average life expectancy was 69 years. Almost 18% of the populace live in the two largest towns, Port Vila on Efate and Luganville on Espiritu Santo. Ni-Vanuatu (people of Vanuatu) are ethnically Melanesian and constitute almost 98% of the population. The largest group of non-Melanesians are of European descent; smaller groups of Polynesians, Chinese, and Vietnamese make up the remainder. With a population density of about 13 people per sq km (34 per sq mi) and an average growth rate of about 2% in 2002, Vanuatu does not face an overpopulation problem quite so severe as that of other Pacific Island nations. According to the Constitution, Bislama (or Bichelama), an English-based pidgin, is the national language, but both French and English are also considered official languages and are used in government, business, and education. About 55% of children are educated in English-language schools and 35% in French-language schools. Although more than 100 indigenous languages are said to be spoken, Bislama now stands as the most widely understood tongue. Christianity in both Protestant and Catholic branches is the dominant faith. Traditional religious practices, however, that emphasize dependence on ancestral spirits have not entirely disappeared.

Vanuatu's economy is dominated by agriculture, with manufacturing being largely restricted to the processing of agricultural products. The major exports are copra (dried coconut), beef, veal, timber, and cocoa. Vegetable squash is emerging as a potentially significant export. A financial center opened in the capital city of Port Vila in 1971 and has become a significant provider of tax shelters and banking for offshore interests, although the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has been increasingly critical of Vanuatu's banking activities. Tourism is a growing sector with great potential. Vanuatu's unit of currency is the vatu, or stone. The per capita gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at US $1,300 in 2000. Vanuatu appears on the list of least-developed countries published by the United Nations (UN).

ADDRESS

Office of the Prime Minister
P.O. Box 110
Port Vila, Vanuatu

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

Read about the Geography of Vanuatu.

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