Official name: Ripablik blong Vanuatu (Republic of Vanuatu).

Population: 192,000 (2000 UN estimate), of which 81 per cent live in rural areas.

Capital: Port Vila

Currency: the Vatu

National language: Bislama, phonetically similar to English, is spoken by 82 per cent. English and French are also official languages.

Religion: over 80 per cent are Christian, but animist beliefs are still prevalent.

Area: 12,190 sq km

Tourism: in 1996 there were 46,123 visitors to the islands

GNP per capita: US$3,020

Location: Melanesia, the southwestern part of the Pacific Ocean. The islands lie some 800 km west of the Fiji Islands and 400km northeast of New Caledonia, with the Solomon Islands to the northwest.

People: 3,000 years of immigration from many Pacific countries have resulted in a huge diversity of people. The islanders are called Ni-Vanuatu, meaning `Of Vanuatu'.

Climate: the tropical climate is moderated by southeast winds from around May to September, while tropical cyclones threaten the islands from around December to March. An average of 2.5 cyclones strike each year. Annual rainfall averages around 2,360mm, but can be as high as 4,000mm in the northern islands. Natural disasters can include volcanic eruptions, mudslides and frequent, although generally minor, earthquakes.

Topography: the country is a long Y-shaped archipelago of volcanic islands and submarine volcanoes extending in a north-south direction between the equator and the tropic of Capricorn. The total number of islands is 80, although some are no more than small islets or rocky outcrops.

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