Vaitupu Island, May 2000
Vaitupu Island, May 2000 - Talofa sign for the visit of Constitutional Review Committee.
Source: Peter Bennetts

Formerly known as the Ellice Islands, Tuvalu is located in the South Pacific, some 1050 kilometres north of its nearest neighbour, Fiji. Tuvalu means ‘eight standing together,’ although it actually comprises nine low-lying reef islands and coral atolls. It has a land area of 26 square kilometres and its highest point is 3.4 metres above sea level. Geographically, Tuvalu is one of the smallest nations in the world, after Monaco, the Vatican and Nauru.

In 2004, Tuvalu had a population of 12,000 (9000 living on Tuvalu, 400 registered as working on ships and 2600 residing in New Zealand). Those living in Tuvalu rely on a subsistence economy to meet their basic needs.

Tuvalu's economy is dependent on foreign aid. Its only significant foreign exchange is earned from the export of copra; sale of postage stamps, fishing licences and the internet domain name '.tv', which the government marketed around 1998; and from remittances sent home from citizens working overseas.

The nation's constitution is built on Christian principles, the rule of law and on Tuvaluan customs and traditions. The British Monarch is the head of state, represented by a native-born governor-general.

Tuvalu's parliamentary system is based on the Westminster model, with a single chamber of 15 members elected for a four-year term and led by a prime minister. There are no political parties, and election campaigns are based on personal ties and reputation. Elders also have authority at the local level, and law and order is maintained through a small police force.

Tuvalu is a member of both the United Nations and the Commonwealth.

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Funafuti Atoll, December 2000