The British and French who settled the New Hebrides in the
19th century, agreed in 1906 to an Anglo-French Condominium,
which administered the islands until independence in 1980.
Area comparative: Slightly larger than Connecticut.
Climate: Tropical; moderated by southeast trade winds.
Terrain: Mostly mountains of volcanic origin; narrow
(July 2002 est.)
Indigenous Melanesian 98%, French, Vietnamese, Chinese,
other Pacific Islanders
Adventist 6.2%, Presbyterian 36.7%, Anglican 15%, Roman
Catholic 15%, indigenous beliefs 7.6%, Church of Christ
3.8%, other 15.7% (including Jon Frum Cargo cult)
official languages: English, French, Pidgin (known as Bislama
or Bichelama), plus more than 100 local languages.
Unified system being created from former dual French and
The economy is based primarily on subsistence or small-scale
agriculture, which provides a living for 65% of the population.
Fishing, offshore financial services, and tourism, with
about 50,000 visitors in 1997, are other mainstays of the
economy. Mineral deposits are negligible; the country has
no known petroleum deposits. A small light industry sector
caters to the local market. Tax revenues come mainly from
import duties. Economic development is hindered by dependence
on relatively few commodity exports, vulnerability to natural
disasters, and long distances from main markets and between
constituent islands. A severe earthquake in November 1999
followed by a tsunami, caused extensive damage to the northern
island of Pentecote and left thousands homeless. Another
powerful earthquake in January 2002 caused extensive damage
in the capital, Port-Vila, and surrounding areas, and also
was followed by a tsunami. GDP growth has risen less than
3% on average in the 1990s. In response to foreign concerns,
the government has promised to tighten regulation of its
offshore financial centre.
Communication/Telephone system: Not Available.
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