Photos of Tuvalu

Introduction

Background

The islands were first populated by voyagers from either Samoa or Tonga in the first millennium A.D., and Tuvalu provided a steppingstone for various Polynesian communities that subsequently settled in Melanesia and Micronesia. Tuvalu eventually came under Samoan and Tongan spheres of influence although proximity to Micronesia allowed some Micronesian communities to flourish in Tuvalu, in particular on Nui Atoll. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Tuvalu was visited by a series of American, British, Dutch, and Russian ships. The islands were named the Ellice Islands in 1819. The first Christian missionaries arrived in 1861, eventually converting most of the population, and around the same time, several hundred Tuvaluans were kidnapped by people purporting to be missionaries and sent to work on plantations in Peru and Hawaii.

The UK declared a protectorate over the Ellice Islands in 1892 and merged it with the Micronesian Gilbert Islands. The Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate became a colony in 1916. During World War II, the US set up military bases on a few islands, and in 1943, after Japan captured many of the northern Gilbert Islands, the UK transferred administration of the colony southward to Funafuti. After the war, Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands was once again made the colony’s capital and the center of power was firmly in the Gilbert Islands, including the colony’s only secondary school. Amid growing tensions with the Gilbertese, Tuvaluans voted to secede from the colony in 1974, were granted self-rule in 1975, and gained independence in 1978 as Tuvalu. In 1979, the US relinquished its claims to Tuvaluan islands in a treaty of friendship.


The Tuvalu Trust Fund was established in 1987 to provide a longterm economic future for the country. In 2000, Tuvalu negotiated a contract leasing its Internet domain name ".tv" for $50 million in royalties over a 12-year period. The contract was renewed in 2011 for a ten-year period. Tuvalu’s isolation means it sees few tourists; in 2020, Funafuti International Airport had four weekly flights - three to Suva, Fiji, and one to Tarawa. Tuvalu is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change; in 2018, sea levels in Funafuti were rising twice as fast as global averages.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.

Geography

Location

Oceania, island group consisting of nine coral atolls in the South Pacific Ocean, about half way from Hawaii to Australia

Geographic coordinates

8 00 S, 178 00 E

Area

total: 26 sq km

land: 26 sq km

water: 0 sq km

country comparison to the world: 237

Area - comparative

0.1 times the size of Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

contiguous zone: 24 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

Climate

tropical; moderated by easterly trade winds (March to November); westerly gales and heavy rain (November to March)

Terrain

low-lying and narrow coral atolls

Elevation

highest point: unnamed location 5 m

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m

mean elevation: 2 m

Natural resources

fish, coconut (copra)

Land use

agricultural land: 60% (2018 est.)

arable land: 0% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 60% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 0% (2018 est.)

forest: 33.3% (2018 est.)

other: 6.7% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

0 sq km (2012)

Total renewable water resources

0 cubic meters (2017 est.)

Population distribution

over half of the population resides on the atoll of Funafuti

Natural hazards

severe tropical storms are usually rare, but in 1997 there were three cyclones; low levels of islands make them sensitive to changes in sea level

Environment - international agreements

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Climate Change-Paris Agreement, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Whaling

signed, but not ratified: Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban

Geography - note

one of the smallest and most remote countries on Earth; six of the nine coral atolls - Nanumea, Nui, Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti, and Nukulaelae - have lagoons open to the ocean; Nanumaya and Niutao have landlocked lagoons; Niulakita does not have a lagoon

People and Society

Nationality

noun: Tuvaluan(s)

adjective: Tuvaluan

Ethnic groups

Tuvaluan 86.8%, Tuvaluan/I-Kiribati 5.6%, Tuvaluan/other 6.7%, other 0.9% (2012 est.)

Languages

Tuvaluan (official), English (official), Samoan, Kiribati (on the island of Nui)

Religions

Protestant 92.4% (Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu 85.7%, Brethren 3%, Seventh Day Adventist 2.8%, Assemblies of God .9%), Baha'i 2%, Jehovah's Witness 1.3%, Mormon 1%, other 3.1%, none 0.2% (2012 est.)

Age structure

0-14 years: 29.42% (male 1,711/female 1,626)

15-24 years: 17.61% (male 1,031/female 966)

25-54 years: 37.17% (male 2,157/female 2,059)

55-64 years: 9.12% (male 427/female 607)

65 years and over: 6.68% (male 289/female 469) (2020 est.)

Median age

total: 26.6 years

male: 25.6 years

female: 27.6 years (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 152

Birth rate

22.97 births/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 54

Death rate

8.04 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 85

Net migration rate

-6.46 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 212

Population distribution

over half of the population resides on the atoll of Funafuti

Urbanization

urban population: 64.8% of total population (2021)

rate of urbanization: 2.08% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Major urban areas - population

7,000 FUNAFUTI (capital) (2018)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.05 male(s)/female

15-24 years: 1.07 male(s)/female

25-54 years: 1.05 male(s)/female

55-64 years: 0.7 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.62 male(s)/female

total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2020 est.)

Infant mortality rate

total: 29.52 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 33.2 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 25.66 deaths/1,000 live births (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 58

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 68.07 years

male: 65.67 years

female: 70.59 years (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 181

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 100% of population

rural: 98.8% of population

total: 99% of population

unimproved: urban: 0% of population

rural: 1.2% of population

total: 1% of population (2017 est.)

Physicians density

0.91 physicians/1,000 population (2014)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 91.8% of population

rural: 91% of population

total: 91.5% of population

unimproved: urban: 9.2% of population

rural: 9% of population

total: 8.5% of population (2017 est.)

Environment

Environment - current issues

water needs met by catchment systems; the use of sand as a building material has led to beachhead erosion; deforestation; damage to coral reefs from increasing ocean temperatures and acidification; rising sea levels threaten water table; in 2000, the government appealed to Australia and New Zealand to take in Tuvaluans if rising sea levels should make evacuation necessary

Environment - international agreements

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Climate Change-Paris Agreement, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Whaling

signed, but not ratified: Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban

Air pollutants

particulate matter emissions: 11.42 micrograms per cubic meter (2016 est.)

carbon dioxide emissions: 0.01 megatons (2016 est.)

methane emissions: 0.01 megatons (2020 est.)

Total renewable water resources

0 cubic meters (2017 est.)

Climate

tropical; moderated by easterly trade winds (March to November); westerly gales and heavy rain (November to March)

Land use

agricultural land: 60% (2018 est.)

arable land: 0% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 60% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 0% (2018 est.)

forest: 33.3% (2018 est.)

other: 6.7% (2018 est.)

Urbanization

urban population: 64.8% of total population (2021)

rate of urbanization: 2.08% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Waste and recycling

municipal solid waste generated annually: 3,989 tons (2011 est.)

municipal solid waste recycled annually: 598 tons (2013 est.)

percent of municipal solid waste recycled: 15% (2013 est.)

Government

Country name

conventional long form: none

conventional short form: Tuvalu

local long form: none

local short form: Tuvalu

former: Ellice Islands

etymology: "tuvalu" means "group of eight" or "eight standing together" referring to the country's eight traditionally inhabited islands

Government type

parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy; a Commonwealth realm

Capital

name: Funafuti; note - the capital is an atoll of some 29 islets; administrative offices are in Vaiaku Village on Fongafale Islet

geographic coordinates: 8 31 S, 179 13 E

time difference: UTC+12 (17 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: the atoll is named after a founding ancestor chief, Funa, from the island of Samoa

Administrative divisions

7 island councils and 1 town council*; Funafuti*, Nanumaga, Nanumea, Niutao, Nui, Nukufetau, Nukulaelae, Vaitupu

Independence

1 October 1978 (from the UK)

National holiday

Independence Day, 1 October (1978)

Constitution

history: previous 1978 (at independence); latest effective 1 October 1986

amendments: proposed by the House of Assembly; passage requires at least two-thirds majority vote by the Assembly membership in the final reading; amended 2007, 2010, 2013; note - in 2016, the United Nations Development Program and the Tuvaluan Government initiated a review of the country's constitution, which was ongoing as of early 2021

Legal system

mixed legal system of English common law and local customary law

International law organization participation

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the ICCt

Citizenship

citizenship by birth: yes

citizenship by descent only: yes; for a child born abroad, at least one parent must be a citizen of Tuvalu

dual citizenship recognized: yes

residency requirement for naturalization: na

Suffrage

18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952); represented by Acting Governor General Teniku TALESI Honolulu
(since 19 August 2019)

head of government: Prime Minister Kausea NATANO (since 19 September 2019)

cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the governor general on recommendation of the prime minister

elections/appointments: the monarchy is hereditary; governor general appointed by the monarch on recommendation of the prime minister; prime minister and deputy prime minister elected by and from members of House of Assembly following parliamentary elections

election results: Kausea NATANO elected prime minister by House of Assembly; House of Assembly vote count on 19 September 2019 - 10 to 6

Legislative branch

description: unicameral House of Assembly or Fale I Fono (16 seats; members directly elected in single- and multi-seat constituencies by simple majority vote to serve 4-year terms)

elections: last held on 9 September 2019 (next to be held on September 2023)

election results: percent of vote - NA; seats - independent 16 (9 members reelected)

Judicial branch

highest courts: Court of Appeal (consists of the chief justice and not less than 3 appeals judges); High Court (consists of the chief justice); appeals beyond the Court of Appeal are heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (in London)

judge selection and term of office: Court of Appeal judges appointed by the governor general on the advice of the Cabinet; judge tenure based on terms of appointment; High Court chief justice appointed by the governor general on the advice of the Cabinet; chief justice serves for life; other judges appointed by the governor general on the advice of the Cabinet after consultation with chief justice; judge tenure set by terms of appointment

subordinate courts: magistrates' courts; island courts; land courts

Political parties and leaders

there are no political parties but members of parliament usually align themselves in informal groupings

International organization participation

ACP, ADB, AOSIS, C, FAO, IBRD, IDA, IFAD, IFRCS (observer), ILO, IMF, IMO, IOC, ITU, OPCW, PIF, Sparteca, SPC, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WHO, WIPO, WMO

Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: none; the Tuvalu Permanent Mission to the UN serves as the Embassy; it is headed by Samuelu LALONIU (since 21 July 2017); address: 685 Third Avenue, Suite 1104, New York, NY 10017; telephone: [1] (212) 490-0534; FAX: [1] (212) 808-4975; email: tuvalumission.un@gmail.com

Diplomatic representation from the US

embassy: the US does not have an embassy in Tuvalu; the US Ambassador to Fiji is accredited to Tuvalu

Flag description

light blue with the flag of the UK in the upper hoist-side quadrant; the outer half of the flag represents a map of the country with nine yellow, five-pointed stars on a blue field symbolizing the nine atolls in the ocean

National symbol(s)

maneapa (native meeting house); national colors: light blue, yellow

National anthem

name: "Tuvalu mo te Atua" (Tuvalu for the Almighty)

lyrics/music: Afaese MANOA

note: adopted 1978; the anthem's name is also the nation's motto

Economy

Economic overview

Tuvalu consists of a densely populated, scattered group of nine coral atolls with poor soil. Only eight of the atolls are inhabited. It is one of the smallest countries in the world, with its highest point at 4.6 meters above sea level. The country is isolated, almost entirely dependent on imports, particularly of food and fuel, and vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels, which pose significant challenges to development.

The public sector dominates economic activity. Tuvalu has few natural resources, except for its fisheries. Earnings from fish exports and fishing licenses for Tuvalu’s territorial waters are a significant source of government revenue. In 2013, revenue from fishing licenses doubled and totaled more than 45% of GDP.

Official aid from foreign development partners has also increased. Tuvalu has substantial assets abroad. The Tuvalu Trust Fund, an international trust fund established in 1987 by development partners, has grown to $104 million (A$141 million) in 2014 and is an important cushion for meeting shortfalls in the government's budget. While remittances are another substantial source of income, the value of remittances has declined since the 2008-09 global financial crisis, but has stabilized at nearly $4 million per year. The financial impact of climate change and the cost of climate related adaptation projects is one of many concerns for the nation.

Real GDP growth rate

3.2% (2017 est.)

3% (2016 est.)

9.1% (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 93

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$49 million (2019 est.)

$45 million (2018 est.)

$44 million (2017 est.)

note: data are in 2017 dollars

country comparison to the world: 225

GDP (official exchange rate)

$40 million (2017 est.)

Real GDP per capita

$4,281 (2019 est.)

$3,948 (2018 est.)

$3,898 (2017 est.)

note: data are in 2017 dollars

country comparison to the world: 182

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 24.5% (2012 est.)

industry: 5.6% (2012 est.)

services: 70% (2012 est.)

GDP - composition, by end use

government consumption: 87% (2016 est.)

investment in fixed capital: 24.3% (2016 est.)

exports of goods and services: 43.7% (2016 est.)

imports of goods and services: -66.1% (2016 est.)

Agricultural products

coconuts, vegetables, tropical fruit, bananas, roots/tubers nes, pork, poultry, eggs, pig fat, pig offals

Industries

fishing

Labor force - by occupation

note: most people make a living through exploitation of the sea, reefs, and atolls - and through overseas remittances (mostly from workers in the phosphate industry and sailors)

Budget

revenues: 42.68 million (2013 est.)

expenditures: 32.46 million (2012 est.)

note: revenue data include Official Development Assistance from Australia

Taxes and other revenues

106.7% (of GDP) (2013 est.)

note: revenue data include Official Development Assistance from Australia

country comparison to the world: 1

Public debt

37% of GDP (2017 est.)

47.2% of GDP (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 142

Fiscal year

calendar year

Current account balance

$2 million (2017 est.)

$8 million (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 64

Exports

$600,000 (2010 est.)

$1 million (2004 est.)

country comparison to the world: 220

Exports - partners

Thailand 50%, Indonesia 40% (2019)

Exports - commodities

fish, ships, coins, metal-clad products, electrical power accessories (2019)

Imports

$20.69 billion (2018 est.)

$19.09 billion (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 81

Imports - partners

China 32%, Japan 29%, Fiji 23%, New Zealand 6% (2019)

Imports - commodities

refined petroleum, fishing ships, tug boats, other ships, iron structures (2019)

Exchange rates

Tuvaluan dollars or Australian dollars (AUD) per US dollar -

1.311 (2017 est.)

1.3442 (2016 est.)

Energy

Electricity access

electrification - total population: 100% (2020)

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 1,978

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 17.59 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 218

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 7,911

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 70.36 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 215

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: internal communications needs met; small global scale of over 11,000 people on 9 inhabited islands; mobile subscriber penetration about 40% and broadband about 10% penetration; govt. owned and sole provider of telecommunications services; 2G widespread; the launch in 2019 of the Kacific-1 satellite will improve the telecommunication sector for the Asia Pacific region (2020)

domestic: radiotelephone communications between islands; fixed-line 18 per 100 and mobile-cellular 70 per 100 (2019)

international: country code - 688; international calls can be made by satellite

note: the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on production and supply chains globally; since 2020, some aspects of the telecom sector have experienced downturn, particularly in mobile device production; many network operators delayed upgrades to infrastructure; progress towards 5G implementation was postponed or slowed in some countries; consumer spending on telecom services and devices was affected by large-scale job losses and the consequent restriction on disposable incomes; the crucial nature of telecom services as a tool for work and school from home became evident, and received some support from governments

Broadcast media

no TV stations; many households use satellite dishes to watch foreign TV stations; 1 government-owned radio station, Radio Tuvalu, includes relays of programming from international broadcasters (2019)

Internet users

total: 5,498

percent of population: 49.32% (July 2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 216

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 1,000

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 9 (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 197

Transportation

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 1 (2013)

1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2013)

Roadways

total: 8 km (2011)

paved: 8 km (2011)

country comparison to the world: 223

Merchant marine

total: 246

by type: bulk carrier 20, container ship 3, general cargo 38, oil tanker 20, other 165 (2020)

country comparison to the world: 60

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Funafuti

Military and Security

Military and security forces

no regular military forces; Tuvalu Police Force (2021)

Transnational Issues