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Geography, climate and population


Vanuatu is a country in the South Pacific Ocean composed of about 80 islands of which only 65 are inhabited. The country has total area of 12 190 km². There are six main island groups in the country comprising the country’s six provinces Malampa, Penama, Sanma, Shefa, Tafea and Torba. Only 12 islands are considered significant in terms of their economy and population. The largest are Santo in Sanma province (4 010 km²), Malekula in Malampa province (2 069 km²), Efate in Shefa province (980 km²), and Erromango in Tafea province (975 km²). The capital city is Port Vila and is located on Efate island.

The agricultural area, which is the sum of arable land, permanent crops and permanent meadows and pasture, is estimated at 187 000 ha, which is 15 percent of the total area of the country. In 2013, the total physical cultivated area was estimated at 145 000 ha, of which 14 percent (20 000 ha) consisted of temporary crops and 86 percent (125 000 ha) of permanent crops (Table 1).

Most islands are either mountainous or steeply undulating, covered by tropical forest. Coconut plantations, covering most of the permanent crop area, and agricultural crops, such as maize, roots and tubers and vegetables, are dominant on the narrow coastal plains. The highest peak in the country, located on Santo island, is Mount Tabwemasana at 1 879 m (SOPAC, 2007).


The climate of Vanuatu is tropical and maritime, varying from hot, very wet and humid in the north to warm and less humid in the south. The average temperature is 24ºC, ranging from 22°C to 27°C. Average annual rainfall is estimated at about 2 000 mm. It varies from about 4 200 mm in the northern higher Banks and Torres islands groups in Torba province to about 1 500 mm in the southern islands. From May through September a fresh southeasterly breeze gives sunny days and cooler nights. November to April is the wet season with higher temperatures, heavy rain and occasional cyclones. Heaviest rain falls January to March. Over the last 40 years, 2.6 cyclones per year have occur on the islands (SOPAC, 2007; Sullivan; Guglielmi, 2007; Esau, Ioan and Vuti, 1999).


In 2015, the total population was about 264 600, of which around 74 percent was rural (Table 1). Population density is 22 inhabitants/km². The average annual population growth rate in the 2005-2015 period was 2.4 percent. Most of the population lives along the coast and the internal areas of many islands are almost uninhabited.

In 2014, the Human Development Index (HDI) ranks Vanuatu 134 among 188 countries for which information was available. Life expectancy is 72 years and the under-five mortality is 28 per 1000 births, both progressing from 65 years and 31 per 1000 in the 1990s. With no significant distinction between boys and girls, around 99 percent of the children in 2005 are enrolled in primary education and 52 percent in secondary education in 2010 (World Bank, 2015). In 2015, 95 percent of the population had access to improved water sources (99 and 93 percent in urban and rural areas respectively) and 58 percent of the total population had access to improved sanitation (65 and 55 percent in urban and rural areas respectively) (JMP, 2015).


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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