Vanuatu, an archipelago of 83 islands in the South Pacific, gained independence from France and Britain in 1980. Read this country profile to learn about the geography, history, and government of Vanuatu.
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Map of Vanuatu
Map of Vanuatu

Republic of Vanuatu

President: Kalkot Mataskelekele (2004)

Prime Minister: Ham Lini (2004)

Total area: 4,710 sq mi (12,200 sq km)

Population (2007 est.): 211,971 (growth rate: 1.5%); birth rate: 22.4/1000; infant mortality rate: 52.5/1000; life expectancy: 63.2; density per sq mi: 37

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Port Vila, 35,300

Monetary unit: Vatu

Languages: Bislama 23% (a Melanesian pidgin English), English 2%, French 1% (all 3 official); more than 100 local languages 73%

Ethnicity/race: Ni-Vanuatu 98.5%, other 1.5% (1999)

Religions: Presbyterian 31%, Anglican 13%, Roman Catholic 13%, Seventh-Day Adventist 11%, other Christian 14%, indigenous beliefs 6% (including Jon Frum Cargo cult), none 1%

Literacy rate: 74% (1999 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $897 million; per capita $3,900. Real growth rate: 5%. Inflation: 3.9%. Unemployment: 1.7% (1999). Arable land: 2%. Agriculture: copra, coconuts, cocoa, coffee, taro, yams, fruits, vegetables; beef; fish. Labor force: 76,410 (1999); agriculture 65%, services 30%, industry 5% (2000 est.). Industries: food and fish freezing, wood processing, meat canning. Natural resources: manganese, hardwood forests, fish. Exports: $34.11 million f.o.b. (2004 est.): copra, beef, cocoa, timber, kava, coffee. Imports: $117.1 million c.i.f. (2004 est.): machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, fuels. Major trading partners: Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Belgium, China, Taiwan, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, Fiji, U.S. (2004).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 7,500 (2005); mobile cellular: 12,700 (2005). Radio broadcast stations: AM 2, FM 2, shortwave 1 (2002). Radios: 67,000 (1997). Television broadcast stations: 1 (2002). Televisions: 2,300 (1999). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 413 (2006). Internet users: 7,500 (2004).

Transportation: Railways: 0 km. Highways: total: 1,070 km; paved: 256 km; unpaved: 814 km (1999 est.). Waterways: none. Ports and harbors: Forari, Port-Vila, Santo (Espiritu Santo). Airports: 31 (2006).

International disputes: Matthew and Hunter Islands east of New Caledonia claimed by Vanuatu and France.

Flag of Vanuatu


Vanuatu is an archipelago of 83 islands lying between New Caledonia and Fiji in the South Pacific. Largest of the islands is Espiritu Santo (875 sq mi; 2,266 sq km); others are Efate, Malekula, Malo, Pentecost, and Tanna.




The first settlers are believed to have arrived approximately 3,500 years ago from New Guinea and the Solomon Islands by canoe. The islands were sighted by Pedro Fernandes de Queiros of Portugal in 1606 and were charted by the British navigator James Cook in 1774, who named the archipelago New Hebrides, after the northern Scottish islands. Competing British and French claims to the islands led to the formation of a condominium government, allowing for joint British-French rule in 1906. The islands' plantation economy, based on imported Vietnamese labor, was prosperous until the 1920s, when markets for its products declined. Diseases brought by missionaries, sandalwood traders, and others helped reduce the population from approximately 1 million in 1800 to 45,000 in 1935. The islands served as a major Allied base in World War II. After the war, the indigenous Melanesians began lobbying for independence, which in 1980 the country achieved. It was then renamed Vanuatu.

A brief rebellion by French settlers and plantation workers on Espiritu Santo took place in May 1980. Britain, France, and Papua New Guinea sent soldiers, who quelled the revolt, which the new government said was financed by the Phoenix Foundation, a right-wing U.S. group.

In July 2002, former prime minister Barak Sope was convicted of forgery. Alfred Maseng was elected president in April 2004, but he was forced to step down when his criminal record was revealed. In Aug. 2004, Kalkot Mataskelekele was selected from 16 candidates as the new president. He is the country's first president to hold a university degree.

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