Tuvalu is a group of nine tiny islands in the South Pacific which won independence from the United Kingdom in 1978. Five of the islands are coral atolls, the other four consist of land rising from the sea bed.
All are low-lying, with no point on Tuvalu being higher than 4.5 metres above sea level. Local politicians have campaigned against global warming, arguing that climate change could see the islands swamped by rising sea levels.
Life on the islands is simple and often harsh. There are no streams or rivers, so the collection of rain is essential.
Coconut palms cover most of the islands, and copra - dried coconut kernel - is practically the only export commodity. Increasing salination of the soil threatens traditional subsistence farming.
Tuvalu depends on foreign aid, the income from the sale of tuna fishing licences and the interest from a trust fund set up in 1987. The sale of postage stamps also brings in revenues.
It is one of a handful of countries to have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which has funded the construction of Tuvalu's largest building - a three-storey administrative headquarters.
Tuvalu has shown ingenuity by exploiting another source of income. It has sold its internet suffix - .tv - to a Californian company for several million dollars a year in continuing revenue. The company sells the suffix on to television broadcasters.
Some of the money has been used to pave roads - which were formerly made of crushed coral - and to build schools.
* Full name: Tuvalu
* Population: 11,000 (UN, 2010)
* Capital: Funafuti
* Area: 26 sq km (10 sq miles)
* Major language: Tuvaluan, English
* Major religion: Christianity
* Life expectancy: 62 years (men), 65 years (women) (UN)
* Monetary unit: 1 Tuvaluan dollar, or 1 Australian dollar = 100 cents
* Main exports: Copra, handicrafts
* GNI per capita: $3,700 (World Bank, 2010)
* Internet domain: .tv
* International dialling code: +688
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor
Prime minister: Willy Telavi
Willy Telavi was elected prime minister in December 2010, replacing Maatia Toafa, who had been ousted by no-confidence vote after only three months in power.
Mr Telavi's government faced an early challenge when protests were held demanding the resignation of Finance Minister Lotoala Metia. It responded with a temporary ban on public gatherings.
Maatia Toafa had become PM after general elections in September, succeeding Apisai Ielemia, but lost his majority when Mr Telavi, then home affairs minister, and two other MPs withdrew their support and joined the opposition.
The move was reportedly prompted by dissatisfaction with the government's budget, especially plans to stop funding the medical costs of patients seeking treatment abroad.
Hailing from Nanumea, the northwesternmost of Tuvalu's islands, Mr Telavi is a career policeman, and served as Tuvalu's police commissioner from 1993-2009.
He was elected to parliament and appointed home affairs minister in Apisai Ielemia's new government in 2006, retaining the position under Maatia Toafa.
Tuvalu has no political parties. Allegiances revolve around personalities and geography. The 15-member parliament is popularly elected every four years. The prime minister is chosen by MPs.
From : BBC News