Maldives consists of a chain of over 1,200 small coral islands in the Indian Ocean, 600-1,000 miles (965-1,610 km) west of Sri Lanka.
It is the smallest, independent country in Asia, and was a British protectorate until 1965. Most of the population of 254,000 lives on 200 or so of the islands.
Nearly all Maldivians are descendants of Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka, and are Muslims of the Sunni sect. Seventy percent of them are classified as rural. The capital city of Male (population: 62,000) contains most of the country’s urban population. Growing at a rate of 3.4 percent a year, Maldives is one of the fastest growing countries in the world. The population density of 2,417 persons per sq. mile (932 per sq. km) is also one of the highest in the world.
The islands are grouped in 12 atolls, enclosed by barrier reefs, most of which are very small, less than 5 sq. miles (13 sq. km) in area. In topography, the islands are nearly flat, the highest point being at an elevation of 80 feet (24 meters). The climate is typically tropical, hot and humid, with daytime temperatures averaging 80°F (27°C). Rainfall is plentiful, between 100 inches (25,000 mm) and 150 inches (3,810 mm), annually, coming mostly in two rainy seasons.
Fishing and tourism are the two main economic activities. Dried fish, exported largely to Sri Lanka, is the chief source of revenue. One-fifth of the national income is derived from tourism. Coconuts, millets, sweet potatoes are also grown. Coir yarn (made from coconut fiber) is used in the manufacturing of shirts, and sweaters in the island of Gan.
Rice, sugar, wheat flour, and manufactured goods are the major imports. India, Japan, Singapore, and Sri Lanka are the country’s chief trading partners. With a per capita income of $1,200 a year, Maldives enjoys the highest standard of living in South Asia.
The strategic location of Maldives in the Indian Ocean was used by the British to establish a military base in the island of Gan. During the 1950s a dispute arose between Britain and Maldives over the Gan-territory which was finally settled in 1960 giving Britain rights to establish a military base on the island. In 1985 Maldives became a member of the SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation).