Most of the islands are inhabited; some have active volcanoes.
Vanuatu is mountainous and much of it is covered with tropical rainforests. Like most of the area it is prone to earthquakes and tidal waves. Most of the people live in rural areas and practice subsistence agriculture.
Vanuatu has been spared the unrest which has befallen neighbouring countries such as the Solomon Islands and Fiji although the largest island Espiritu Santo experienced a brief insurrection in 1980.
A land diver makes a death-defying leap on the island of Pentecost Vanuatu
Local traditions are strong. Women for example generally have lower social standing than men and have fewer educational opportunities.
The economy has been unable to grow fast enough to meet the needs of Vanuatu's expanding population.
The main sources of revenue are agriculture and eco-tourism. Both depend on the weather and when as in 1999 cyclones and persistent rain hit Vanuatu both suffer.
Tax revenue is derived from import duties and neither personal income nor company profits are taxed.
Vanuatu tightened up its tax and regulatory systems after the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that it could face sanctions if lax taxation regimes were exploited by criminals for money-laundering.
Australia a key donor has pushed for good governance and economic reform in the islands.
- Full name: Republic of Vanuatu
- Population: 239,000 (UN 2009)
- Capital: Port-Vila
- Area: 12,190 sq km (4,707 sq miles)
- Major languages: Bislama French English
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 68 years (men) 72 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 vatu = 100 centimes
- Main exports: Copra timber beef cocoa
- GNI per capita: US $2,330 (World Bank 2008)
- Internet domain: .vu
- International dialling code: +678
President: Iolu Abil
Iolu Abil was chosen as president by Vanuatu's electoral college - comprising the 52 members of parliament and the heads of the six provincial governments - in September 2009.
He served as a cabinet minister in the first Vanuatu government after the country gained independence in 1980.
He succeeded Kalkot Mataskelekele when his five-year term in office expired.
Prime minister (outgoing): Edward Natapei
Edward Natapei came into office at the head of a new coalition government after his Vanuaaku Pati emerged as the largest force in parliament following elections in September 2008.
Edward Natapei was stripped of his position because of a clerical error
Born in 1954 Edward Natapei was prime minister once before between 2001 and 2004.
He reassumed the premiership in 2008 at the head of a governing alliance that also included the second largest party in parliament the National United Party of former prime minister Ham Lini.
Mr Natapei pledged to continue the reforms and policies of Mr Lini's government and said transparency good governance and fighting corruption would be among the main priorities.
He was stripped of his position and his parliamentary seat in November 2009 on account of a basic paperwork error - he missed three consecutive parliamentary sittings without submitting a written explanation for his absence.
Under Vanuatu's law a caretaker government takes over until MPs have elected a new prime minister.
The single TV channel on Vanuatu was established with the help of Radio France Overseas (RFO) and broadcasts in French and English.
Radio Vanuatu runs a shortwave and medium wave (AM) service as well as a commercial FM station.
BBC World Service (99 MHz) Radio Australia Radio France Internationale and China Radio International are available on FM.
There is a government newspaper Vanuatu Weekly and a handful of privately-owned papers.
- Vanuatu Weekly - state-owned
- Nasara - private weekly
- Vanuatu Daily Post - published Monday-Saturday
- L'Hebdo Du Vanuatu - French-language from publisher of Daily Post
- Port Vila Presse - private weekly
- Ni-Vanuatu - private weekly
- Television Blong Vanuatu - operated by state-owned Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation (VBTC)
- Radio Vanuatu - operated by state-owned VBTC
- Capital FM - private Port Vila
Laef FM - Christian Port Vila
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