With populations of about 10,000, Tuvalu and Nauru are the smallest Commonwealth member nations. They are also two of the world’s smallest democracies.
Although Tuvalu had already fielded teams at the Commonwealth Games, the country only made its first appearance in an Olympic Games at Beijing in August 2008.
Tuvalu has been able to capitalise on its fortune in having rights to the highly marketable internet domain of ‘.tv’.
Tuvalu, formerly the Ellice Islands, is a group of atolls lying south of the equator in the western Pacific Ocean, south of Kiribati and north of Fiji. Funafuti, the main island and capital, lies 1,046 km north of Suva, Fiji. The other islands are Nanumanga, Nanumea, Niulakita, Niutao, Nui, Nukufetau, Nukulaelae and Vaitupu.
Vaiaku (on Funafuti, 5,100 in 2010), Asau (on Vaitupu, 650), Lolua (on Nanumea, 570), Savave (on Nukufetau, 520) and Kua (on Niutao, 480).
Tuvalu has only a few roads (total extent 8 km) and, before 2002 when tarring was completed, these were made from impacted coral and supplemented by dirt tracks.
There is a deep-water lagoon at Funafuti, which ships are able to enter at Nukufetau. The islands are served by a passenger and cargo vessel, based at Funafuti, which occasionally calls at Suva, Fiji. Ships from Fiji, Australia and New Zealand call at Funafuti.
The only airfield is on Funafuti, at the eastern tip of the island. In 1992 a new runway was completed with Commonwealth technical assistance and international funding, replacing the old grass airstrip. There are scheduled flights from Majuro in the Marshall Islands, Tarawa in Kiribati, and Nadi and Suva in Fiji.
Tuvalu is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, Pacific Community, Pacific Islands Forum and United Nations.
The islands seldom rise higher than 4.5 metres above sea level. Five islands have large lagoons that are enclosed within the coral reef. The remaining four islands are pinnacles of land rising up solid from the seabed. Most people live on the island of Funafuti, on Funafuti Atoll.
The mean annual temperature is 30°C, with little seasonal variation, though March to October tends to be cooler. Humidity is high. Trade winds blow from the east for much of the year. Although the islands are north of the recognised hurricane belt, severe cyclones struck in 1894, 1972 and 1990. Rainfall is high, averaging 3,535 mm p.a. The wettest season is November to February.
There are no streams or rivers in the country and ground water is not safe to drink; water needs are met by catchment of rainwater and, increasingly, by desalination. The Japanese Government has built one desalination plant and plans to build another. Some 40 per cent of the island of Funafuti was severely damaged during World War II and is virtually uninhabitable. Other significant environmental issues are: beachhead erosion because of the removal of sand for building materials; excessive clearance of forest undergrowth for use as fuel; damage to coral reefs from the spread of the Crown of Thorns starfish; and rising sea level threatening the underground water table.
The heavy rainfall provides more luxuriant vegetation than that on neighbouring Kiribati. Coconut palms cover most of the land. Forest covers 33 per cent of the land area and there was no significant loss of forest cover during 1990–2012.
Lizards, turtles and several resident species of birds are the most notable forms of indigenous animal life. Birds include reef herons, white-tailed tropic-birds, terns and noddies.