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Geography, climate and population
The Republic of Mauritius is an island country in the Indian Ocean, 950 km to the east of Madagascar. It has a total area of 2 040 km2, consisting of the island of Mauritius itself (1 865 km2), and the islands of Rodrigues, Agalega and the Chagos Archipelago. The island of Mauritius consists of an undulating central plateau with coastal plains in the north and east. The southern and southeastern escarpments of the plateau are steep and rugged. The island is surrounded by coral reefs and is of volcanic origin. Soils are mainly derived from weathered basaltic lava. Reddish tropical latosols are the most widespread soils and cover around 70 percent of the whole island. The cultivated area is 106 000 ha, or 52 percent of the total area of Mauritius, of which arable land covers 100 000 ha and permanent crops 6 000 ha (Table 1). Around 20 percent is occupied by built-up areas and 2 percent by public roads. The remaining area consists of forests, scrub lands, grasslands and reservoirs.
Mauritius has a sub-tropical and mild maritime climate. There are two seasons: the summer season from December to April, during which temperatures exceed 32 ░C on a regular basis, and the winter season from May to November with a minimum temperature seldom falling below 16 ░C. The summer is influenced by the passage of cyclones, which cause damage to crops and buildings. The average annual precipitation over the island is 2 041 mm. The north and west of the island are the driest regions of the island, with an annual precipitation of 1 200 mm and 900 mm respectively. The Central Plateau at an altitude of 500 m receives an annual average of 4 000 mm.
Total population of the country is 1.23 million (2004) of which 56 percent are rural (Table 1). Annual population growth rate is 1.1 percent (1990-2002). The population density is 604 inhabitants/km2. The unemployment rate is 10.6 percent (2003). The total population has access to improved drinking water sources and 99 percent were using adequate sanitation facilities in 2002. Infant mortality rate was 17 per 1000 life births and the under-five mortality rate was 19 per 1000 children in 2002.