Tonga profile

Malo o lelei

Tonga comprises 169 low-lying islands scattered over 700,000 kmsq in the South Pacific. Its capital, Nuku'alofa, is situated on the largest and most densley populated island Tongatapu. 

Tonga is unique among Pacific nations in that it never lost its indigenous governance. It was united as a kingdom in 1845 and came under British protection in 1900, but did not give up its monarchy.

Under Queen Salote Tapou III, Tonga ended its protectorate status in 1970, finally joining the UN in 1999. The Kingdom is undergoing a historic and fundamental change from an executive monarchy to a modern parliamentary democracy, with the first democratic elections held in November 2010.

Development and economy

Although Tonga is not classified as a Least Developed Country, it is in many ways just as vulnerable. Its GDP is less than one seventh of New Zealand's (2014), and Tongans still face issues of instability arising from the country’s isolation, wealth, gender and social inequalities and the weakness of political accountability. Remittances from Tongans living in New Zealand, Australia and the US, which usually account for over 30 percent of GDP, have suffered as a result of the global recession and there are concerns over employment opportunities for young people.

Tonga is also a low-lying coral archipelago, at risk from the effects of climate change and natural disasters including tsunami and cyclones.

However, Tonga is more stable than some neighbouring states, with relatively high levels of life expectancy and access to basic education. Efforts are being made to enhance the country's burgeoning tourism industry.

Facts and stats

  • Region: Polynesia
  • Capital: Nuku’alofa
  • Population: 106,501 (2015)
  • GDP per capita (USD): $4,900 (2014)
  • Human Development Index: 0.705 (2013)
  • Language: Tongan, English
  • Religion: Christianity
  • Adult literacy: 99.4% (2015)
  • Life expectancy: 76.04 years (2015)
  • Government: Mix of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy
  • Access to safe water: 99.6% (2015)
  • Access to toilets: 91% (2015)
  • Infant mortality rate (per 1000 live births): 11.96 (2015)

Reference: Statistics from the UNDP Human Development Report and The World Factbook.