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Coordinates: 17°45′S 168°18′E / 17.75°S 168.3°E / -17.75; 168.3
Province Shefa Province
Port Vila is the capital and largest city of Vanuatu. Situated on the south
coast of the island of Efate, in Shefa Province, the city population at last
census (1999) was 29,356, an increase of 55% on the previous census result
(1989). This suggests a 2007 population of about 40,000 or around 65% of the
province's population. Port Vila is the economic and commercial centre of
The area occupied by Port Vila has been inhabited by Melanesian people for
thousands of years. In 1606, the first Europeans arrived at the island, led
by Pedro Fernández de Quirós and Luis Váez de Torres. In the 19th century,
French settlers established the municipality of Franceville, which declared
independence in 1889 and became the first self-governing nation to practice
universal suffrage without distinction of sex or race. Although the
population at the time consisted of about 500 native islanders and less than
50 whites, only the latter were permitted to hold office. One of the elected
presidents was a U.S. citizen by birth, R.D. Polk.
After 1887, the territory was jointly administered by the French and the
British. This was formalized in 1906 as an Anglo-French Condominium. During
World War II, Port Vila was an American and Australian airbase. In 1987, a
cyclone severely damaged the city. Another powerful earthquake in January
2002 caused extensive damage in the capital and surrounding areas.
Port Vila is Vanuatu's most important harbour and the centre of the country
s trade. The international airport, Bauerfield International (VLI) is also
located in the city.
Major industries in the city remain agriculture and fishing. Tourism is also
becoming important, especially from Australia and New Zealand. There were
over 50,000 visitors in 1997.
Vanuatu is a tax haven, and offshore financing in Port Vila is an important
part of the economy.
Vanuatu is still dependent on foreign aid, most of which comes from
Australia and New Zealand, although in recent years aid has also come from
the People's Republic of China. Examples of aid have been New Zealand paying
to train doctors selected from the local community, then paying part of
their wages during the first year after qualification. Australia has paid
consultants to work in Port Vila Central Hospital.
35.7% of exports leave from Port Vila and 86.9% of imports arrive in Port
The population is around 38,000; predominately Melanesian, with small
Polynesian, Asian, Australian and European populations, mainly French and
Bislama is spoken by everyone as the day-to-day language. In addition,
English and French are also widespread. Other Indigenous languages are also
spoken in the city.
Christianity is the predominant religion across Vanuatu, followed by more
than 90% of the population. The largest denomination is the Presbyterian
Church, followed by one third of the population. Roman Catholicism and the
Church of Melanesia are also common, each about 15%.
Port Vila has a tropical climate, with a dry season and a hot, wet season.
Rainfall averages about 2,360 millimetres (94 in.) per year. The area also
has south-east trade winds.
Port Vila is one location of the University of the South Pacific, an
educational institution co-owned by twelve Pacific countries. The Vanuatu
campus is the only law school in the university, and it also teaches
Port Vila was the location in August 1999 for the important UNESCO meeting "2nd World Heritage Global Strategy Meeting for the Pacific Islands Region". One of the major topics with reference to Vanuatu and the Pacific region was the question of the suitability of underwater heritage for inscription on the World Heritage List.