Set in the Indian Ocean, southwest of Sri Lanka, the Maldives is an archipelago of 1191 small coral islands, or atolls. 200 are inhabited. The word atoll comes from the Dhivehi word “atolu.”
Geography: Consists of low-lying islands and coral atolls. The larger ones are covered in lush, tropical vegetation.
Climate: Tropical. Rain falls throughout the year, but is heaviest June–November, during the monsoon. Violent storms occasionally hit the northern islands.
People and Society: Maldivians, who are all Sunni Muslim, are descended from Sinhalese, Dravidian, Arab, and black ancestors. About 25% of the population live on Male’. Tourism has grown on separate resort islands away from residents. Politics has been controlled by a small group of influential families. However, a young elite pushed for reform: parties were legalized in 2005, and the presidential election in 2008 brought in a new regime.
The Economy: The fluctuating tourist industry is the economic mainstay. Fish, especially tuna, are the main export. Construction boom to repair 2004 tsunami damage.
Insight: The islands, which all lie below 4 ft (1.2 m), are threatened by rising sea levels, brought about by global warming and climatic changes
Official Name: Republic of Maldives
Date of Formation: 1965
Total Area: 116 sq. miles (300 sq. km)
Density: 2667 people per sq. mile
Languages: Dhivehi* (Maldivian), Sinhala, Tamil, Arabic
Religions: Sunni Muslim 100%
Ethnic Mix: All Maldivians are of Arab–Sinhalese–Malay descent
Government: Presidential system
Currency: Rufiyaa = 100 laari