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Vanuatu (on Bislama: Ripablik Blong Vanuatu) is a sovereign island state in the South Pacific. The island state consisting of 83 islands – or island groups – emerged in 1980 from the British-French condominium New Hebrides, which had existed since 1906, and today has about 267,000 inhabitants.

Geography

The island area of Vanuatu extends over 1300 km of the South Pacific and belongs to Melanesia. The state consists of 83 islands (67 of which are inhabited), mostly of volcanic origin, most of which belong to the New Hebrides archipelago. Furthermore the Banks- and the Torres Islands belong to Vanuatu.

Only a few of these Vanuatu islands have a size that makes them significant. The largest islands are Espiritu Santo (3955.5 km²) and Malakula (2041.3 km²). The highest point on Vanuatu is the Tabwemasana (Tabwémasana) with 1879 m on the island Espíritu Santo.

Remarkable is the active volcano Mount Yasur on the island Tanna as well as the Lomben on the island Ambae, which showed activity in November 2005. Earthquakes have repeatedly shaken the islands, including in 1999 and 2002. The latter caused considerable damage in the capital Port Vila. The two earthquakes were followed by a tsunami.

History

Many of the islands of Vanuatu have been populated for thousands of years. The oldest finds date back to the year 2000 BC. The Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernández de Quirós reached Espíritu Santo on 3 May 1606. Believing that he had found the “lost” southern continent, he named the island Terra Australis del Espiritu Santo after the Holy Spirit and took it (and all the land up to the South Pole) in the name of the Spanish King and the Catholic Church.

In 1768 Louis Antoine de Bougainville sailed on the frigate La Boudeuse between Espíritu Santo and Malakula, refuting Quiró’s theory that it was part of a southern continent. After the second voyage of the British explorer James Cook, European settlers settled on the islands from 1839. From 1887 the islands were officially under British-French control.

In 1906, the French and English agreed on the foundation of the New Hebrides condominium on the New Hebrides. Due to various infectious diseases, which were mainly brought into the country by the European settlers, the population fell to 45,000 by 1935.

During the Second World War, the islands of Éfaté and Espíritu Santo were used by the Allies as military bases. In the 1960s, the population pushed for more self-determination and later independence. The island state gained full sovereignty on 30 July 1980 with the approval of the two European powers. Vanuatu joined the United Nations in 1981 and the Non-Aligned Movement two years later.

The 1990s were characterized by political instability, which led to greater decentralization in the island state’s political system.

Cyclone Pam

Between 14 and 15 March 2015, cyclone Pam raged in Vanuatu, destroying large parts of the island state, and the island state declared a national emergency on 15 March 2015. With wind speeds of more than 300 km/h, the cyclone was one of the strongest ever measured.

According to the United Nations, the cyclone killed at least 24 people and left 3300 homeless, according to the United Nations. President Baldwin Lonsdale blamed climate change for the scale of the destruction.

Political System

Vanuatu is a parliamentary republic with a president as head of state. The president, who mainly performs representative functions, is elected every five years by a joint body of members of parliament and the presidents of the regional parliaments. From 22 September 2014 until his death, Baldwin Lonsdale of Torba Province was President of the country after a total of eight ballots before achieving the necessary two-thirds majority with 46 out of 58 votes. He replaced Iolu Abil, who was in office from 2 September 2009 to 2 September 2014, and his subsequent interim president Philip Boedoro. In July 2017, Tallis Obed Moses became the successor to Baldwin Lonsdale, who is renowned in the region.

The head of government Vanuatu is the prime minister, who is elected by the parliament with a three-quarters majority. The Prime Minister himself appoints the members of his cabinet.bCharlot Salwai has been prime minister since 16 February 2016, replacing his predecessor Sato Kilman.

Vanuatu has a unicameral system. Parliament has 52 members who are directly elected every four years in multi-person constituencies. The prime minister can have the parliament dissolved early by the president.

Economy

Vanuatu’s economy consists mainly of agriculture, fishing and tourism. The most important crops are coconut palms, peanuts, bananas and maize, which are cultivated mainly for domestic consumption. In 2010, coconut palms were cultivated on an area of 96,000 ha (yield: 170,000 t), peanuts on 2428 ha (yield 2011: 2616 t), bananas on 1455 ha (yield: 10,735 t) and maize on 1402 ha (yield: 783 t).

On some farms cattle and pigs are kept, which produced 2500 tonnes of beef and 3417 tonnes of pork in 2010. Occasionally, coffee (2011: 25 ha), cocoa (2011: 500 ha) and spices (2011: seven hectares with a yield of 95 t) are also cultivated. Despite an expanding service sector, the economy is still strongly agricultural and thus susceptible to natural disasters and weather fluctuations. There are no mineral resources worth mentioning.

About 65% of the population make their living from the primary sector. Various economic reforms, such as the introduction of a 12.5% value-added tax, have strengthened the service sector, enabling tourism to expand further. In 2011 there were about 94,000 visitors. On cruise ships, 125,000 daily visitors reached the islands.

Vanuatu is also becoming increasingly important as an offshore financial centre. Vanuatu has no income taxes, corporate taxes or capital gains taxes. The state budget is financed by import taxes, VAT (12.5%) and various fees.

The main exports are agricultural products, although the quantities can fluctuate greatly each year. In 2010, agricultural goods worth US $ 24 million were exported, but food worth US $ 56.3 million had to be imported. Even in the years before, the value of food imports (2009: US $ 53.1 million) always significantly exceeded the value of food exports (2009: US $ 28.1 million). Vanuatu exports beef (2010: 352 t after 904 t in the previous year), copra (2010: 5693 t after 15,107 t in the previous year and 3205 t in 2008), cocoa (2010: 1978 t after 1480 t in the previous year) and small quantities of coffee (2010: 1 t after 4 t in the previous year) and bananas.

On 28 January 2016, the EU Commission presented a package of measures to combat tax evasion, including the inclusion of Vanuatu on the black list of tax havens. The most important trading partners are New Caledonia, Australia and New Zealand.

Culture

The Cultural Landscape Chief Roi Mata’s Domain has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. The sand drawings, which used to be used for communication between the individual islands and tribes, have also been recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

One of Vanuatu’s most important contemporary artists is Aloi Pilioko, who was born on the island of Valais and created the colourful relief on the façade of the main post office in Port Vila. Not far away, an interesting mural can be seen on the façade of the administration building opposite the market hall.

Media

A 10 kW shortwave station broadcasting a domestic programme in English, French and Bislama can occasionally be received in Central Europe under favourable reception conditions. The transmission frequencies are as follows: 3,945, 5,055 and 7,260 kHz. The top-level domain of Vanuatu is .vu. With the sale of the .vu domain, Vanuatu earned more than 42 million Euros.