Vanuatu – a string of more than 80 islands once known as the New Hebrides – achieved independence from France and Britain in 1980.
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.