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By Beachcomber, retrieved from Wikipedia
Nov 4, 2003, 12:24
Tuvalu is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean. With the exception of tiny Vatican City, it is the independent nation with the fewest inhabitants. Due to their low elevation (5 meters maximum), the islands that make up this nation are threatened by any future sea level rise. The population may evacuate during the next decades to New Zealand, or Niue, a small Pacific island (independent but associated with New Zealand) that isn't threatened by sea level rise, but does have decreasing population.
Tuvalu, inhabited since the beginning of the first millennium BC, was first visited by Europeans in 1568, with the arrival of Alvaro de Mendana y Neyra from Spain. Although no settlements were established, slave traders and whalers came to the islands infrequently. In 1892, the islands became part of the British protectorate of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, with Tuvalu being called the Ellice Islands. The protectorate became a colony in 1915.
In 1974, ethnic differences within the colony caused the Polynesians of the Ellice Islands to vote for separation from the Micronesians of the Gilbert Islands (later Kiribati). The following year, the Ellice Islands became the separate British colony of Tuvalu. Independence was granted in 1978.
Tuvalu is a constitutional monarchy within the British Commonwealth, with Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state. She is represented in Tuvalu by a Governor-General, who is appointed upon the advice of the prime minister.
The local parliament, or Fale I Fono has 12 members and is chosen every 4 years. Its members elect a prime minister, who is the head of government.
Although Tuvalu technically has no administrative subdivisions - its population is too small (estimated at 11,000 in 2004) - the country can be divided into 9 islands, or rather atolls, midway between Hawaii and Australia. Originally, only eight of these islands were inhabited, hence the name Tuvalu, which means "eight islands" in Tuvaluan language. The nine islands are:
Being one of the smallest countries in the world, in fact, the fourth smallest, Tuvalu also has very poor lands. There is almost no potable water, and the soil is hardly usable for agriculture.
In 2001, Tuvalu's government announced that the islands, whose highest point is 5 m above sea level, may need to be evacuated in the event of rising sea levels. New Zealand has agreed to accept an annual quota of 75 evacuees, while Australia has refused the Tuvaluans' petitions, presumably based on that country's rejection of the underlying basis of the Kyoto Protocol.
Tuvalu has almost no natural resources, and its main form of income consists of foreign aid. Main industries are fishing and tourism, even though due to the remote location of the islands only a small number of tourists arrive annually.
Government revenues largely come from the sale of stamps and coins and worker remittances. About 1,000 Tuvaluans work in Nauru in the phosphate mining industry. Nauru has begun repatriating Tuvaluans, however, as phosphate resources decline. Substantial income is received annually from an international trust fund established in 1987 by Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom and supported also by Japan and South Korea. Thanks to wise investments and conservative withdrawals, this Fund has grown from an initial $17 million to over $35 million in 1999. The US government is also a major revenue source for Tuvalu, with 1999 payments from a 1988 treaty on fisheries at about $9 million, a total which is expected to rise annually. In an effort to reduce its dependence on foreign aid, the government is pursuing public sector reforms, including privatization of some government functions and personnel cuts of up to 7%.
In 1998, Tuvalu began deriving revenue from use of its area code for "900" lines and from the sale of its ".tv" Internet domain name. In 2000, Tuvalu negotiated a contract leasing its Internet domain name ".tv" for $50 million in royalties over the next dozen years. Royalites from these new technology sources could raise GDP three or more times over the next decade.
Low-lying Tuvalu is particularly vulnerable to any rise in the sea level from future global warming. In mid-February 2004, unusually high tides caused seepage that transformed much of the interior into a salty lake, harming root crops.
The Tuvalu dollar, the local currency, is coupled to the Australian dollar.
The small population of Tuvalu is almost entirely of Polynesian ethnicity. About 97% of the Tuvaluans are members of the Church of Tuvalu, a Protestant Christian church. The religion has been mixed with some elements of the indigenous religions.
The Tuvaluan language is spoken by virtually everybody, while I-Kiribati is spoken by some people on Nui. English is also an official language, but is not spoken in daily use.
The island population has more than doubled since 1980 and is estimated to reach 11,000 by 2004. The population boom may be a contributing factor to the environmental devastation on the island.
The traditional community system still to a large extent survives on Tuvalu. Each family has its own task, or salanga, to perform for the community, such as fishing, house building or defence. The skills of a family are passed on from father to son.
As a low lying island lacking a surrounding shallow shelf, the island communities of Tuvalu are especially susceptible to changes in sea level and storm patterns that hit the island undissipated. Over the past decade, the islands have seen a disappearance of 10 feet of beachfront and an increase in the severity and frequency of storms. Tuvaluans are worried about the drowning of the islands and a growing number have left the island. In 2002, then Prime Minister Koloa Talake announced plans to sue the United States and Australia at the International Court of Justice in the Hague over their disproportionate production of carbon dioxide emissions; the suit was never filed because Talake failed in his bid to be re-elected later that year.
In addition to global warming, population boom on an resource-scarce island has wreaked environmental damage. Since 1980, the poulation of Funafuti has more than doubled from 2,000 to 4,500 or almost half of Tuvalu's citzenry.
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