British Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands
a British colony comprising several small islands (largest, Tortola) in the West Indies, E of Puerto Rico. 10,500; 67 sq. mi. (174 sq. km). Cap.: Road Town.

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British Virgin Islands

Introduction British Virgin Islands -
Background: First settled by the Dutch in 1648, the islands were annexed in 1672 by the English. The economy is closely tied to the larger and more populous US Virgin Islands to the west; the US dollar is the legal currency. Geography British Virgin Islands
Location: Caribbean, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of Puerto Rico
Geographic coordinates: 18 30 N, 64 30 W
Map references: Central America and the Caribbean
Area: total: 153 sq km note: comprised of 16 inhabited and more than 20 uninhabited islands; includes the island of Anegada water: 0 sq km land: 153 sq km
Area - comparative: about 0.9 times the size of Washington, DC
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 80 km
Maritime claims: exclusive fishing zone: 200 NM territorial sea: 3 NM
Climate: subtropical; humid; temperatures moderated by trade winds
Terrain: coral islands relatively flat; volcanic islands steep, hilly
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Caribbean Sea 0 m highest point: Mount Sage 521 m
Natural resources: NEGL
Land use: arable land: 20% permanent crops: 6.67% other: 73.33% (1998 est.)
Irrigated land: NA sq km
Natural hazards: hurricanes and tropical storms (July to October) Environment - current issues: limited natural fresh water resources (except for a few seasonal streams and springs on Tortola, most of the islands' water supply comes from wells and rainwater catchments)
Geography - note: strong ties to nearby US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico People British Virgin Islands -
Population: 21,272 (July 2002 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 22.4% (male 2,401; female 2,351) 15-64 years: 72.7% (male 7,962; female 7,509) 65 years and over: 4.9% (male 565; female 484) (2002 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.16% (2002 est.)
Birth rate: 15.09 births/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Death rate: 4.42 deaths/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Net migration rate: 10.91 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female under 15 years: 1.02 male(s)/female 15-64 years: 1.06 male(s)/female 65 years and over: 1.17 male(s)/ female total population: 1.06 male(s)/ female (2002 est.)
Infant mortality rate: 19.55 deaths/1,000 live births (2002 est.) Life expectancy at birth: total population: 75.85 years female: 76.84 years (2002 est.) male: 74.9 years
Total fertility rate: 1.72 children born/woman (2002 est.) HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: NA% HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/ NA
HIV/AIDS - deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: British Virgin Islander(s) adjective: British Virgin Islander
Ethnic groups: black 83%, white, Indian, Asian and mixed
Religions: Protestant 86% (Methodist 33%, Anglican 17%, Church of God 9%, Seventh-Day Adventist 6%, Baptist 4%, Jehovah's Witnesses 2%, other 2%), Roman Catholic 10%, none 2%, other 2% (1991)
Languages: English (official)
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 97.8% (1991 est.) male: NA% female: NA% Government British Virgin Islands -
Country name: conventional long form: none conventional short form: British Virgin Islands abbreviation: BVI
Dependency status: overseas territory of the UK; internal self-governing
Government type: NA
Capital: Road Town Administrative divisions: none (overseas territory of the UK)
Independence: none (overseas territory of the UK)
National holiday: Territory Day, 1 July
Constitution: 1 June 1977
Legal system: English law
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952), represented by Governor Francis J. SAVAGE (since NA) elections: none; the monarch is hereditary; governor appointed by the monarch; chief minister appointed by the governor from among the members of the Legislative Council head of government: Chief Minister Ralph T. O'NEAL (since 15 May 1995) cabinet: Executive Council appointed by the governor from members of the Legislative Council
Legislative branch: unicameral Legislative Council (13 seats; members are elected by direct popular vote, one member from each of 9 electoral districts, four at- large members; members serve four- year terms) elections: last held 17 May 1999 (next to be held NA 2003) election results: percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - VIP 7, CCM 1, NDP 5
Judicial branch: Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, consisting of the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal (one judge of the Supreme Court is a resident of the islands and presides over the High Court); Magistrate's Court; Juvenile Court; Court of Summary Jurisdiction Political parties and leaders: Concerned Citizens Movement or CCM [Ethlyn SMITH]; National Democratic Party or NDP [Orlando SMITH]; United Party or UP [Gregory MADURO]; Virgin Islands Party or VIP [Ralph T. O'NEAL] Political pressure groups and NA
leaders: International organization Caricom (associate), CDB, ECLAC
participation: (associate), Interpol (subbureau), IOC, OECS (associate), UNESCO (associate) Diplomatic representation in the US: none (overseas territory of the UK) Diplomatic representation from the none (overseas territory of the UK)
Flag description: blue, with the flag of the UK in the upper hoist-side quadrant and the Virgin Islander coat of arms centered in the outer half of the flag; the coat of arms depicts a woman flanked on either side by a vertical column of six oil lamps above a scroll bearing the Latin word VIGILATE (Be Watchful) Economy British Virgin Islands
Economy - overview: The economy, one of the most stable and prosperous in the Caribbean, is highly dependent on tourism, generating an estimated 45% of the national income. An estimated 350,000 tourists, mainly from the US, visited the islands in 1998. In the mid-1980s, the government began offering offshore registration to companies wishing to incorporate in the islands, and incorporation fees now generate substantial revenues. Roughly 400,000 companies were on the offshore registry by yearend 2000. The adoption of a comprehensive insurance law in late 1994, which provides a blanket of confidentiality with regulated statutory gateways for investigation of criminal offenses, is expected to make the British Virgin Islands even more attractive to international business. Livestock raising is the most important agricultural activity; poor soils limit the islands' ability to meet domestic food requirements. Because of traditionally close links with the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands has used the dollar as its currency since 1959.
GDP: purchasing power parity - $311 million (2000 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 4.4% (2000 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $16,000 (2000 est.) GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 1.8% industry: 6.2% services: 92% (1996 est.) Population below poverty line: NA% Household income or consumption by lowest 10%: NA%
percentage share: highest 10%: NA% Inflation rate (consumer prices): 3.3% (2000)
Labor force: 4,911 (1980) Labor force - by occupation: agriculture NA%, industry NA%, services NA%
Unemployment rate: 3% (1995)
Budget: revenues: $121.5 million expenditures: $115.5 million, including capital expenditures of $NA (1997)
Industries: tourism, light industry, construction, rum, concrete block, offshore financial center Industrial production growth rate: 4% (1985) Electricity - production: 42 million kWh (1999) Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 100% hydro: 0% other: 0% (1999) nuclear: 0% Electricity - consumption: 39.1 million kWh (1999)
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (1999)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (1999)
Agriculture - products: fruits, vegetables; livestock, poultry; fish
Exports: $6.2 million (2000 est.)
Exports - commodities: rum, fresh fish, fruits, animals; gravel, sand
Exports - partners: Virgin Islands (US), Puerto Rico, US
Imports: $230 million (2000 est.)
Imports - commodities: building materials, automobiles, foodstuffs, machinery
Imports - partners: Virgin Islands (US), Puerto Rico, US
Debt - external: $36.1 million (1997) Economic aid - recipient: NA
Currency: US dollar (USD)
Currency code: USD
Exchange rates: the US dollar is used
Fiscal year: 1 April - 31 March Communications British Virgin Islands - Telephones - main lines in use: 10,000 (1996) Telephones - mobile cellular: NA
Telephone system: general assessment: worldwide telephone service domestic: NA international: submarine cable to Bermuda
Radio broadcast stations: AM 1, FM 4, shortwave 0 (1998)
Radios: 9,000 (1997) Television broadcast stations: 1 (plus one cable company) (1997)
Televisions: 4,000 (1997)
Internet country code: .vg Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 16 (2000)
Internet users: NA Transportation British Virgin Islands -
Railways: 0 km
Highways: total: 177 km paved: 177 km unpaved: 0 km (2000)
Waterways: none
Ports and harbors: Road Town
Merchant marine: total: 1 ship (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 70,285 GRT/6,946 DWT ships by type: passenger 1 (2002 est.)
Airports: 3 (2001) Airports - with paved runways: total: 2 914 to 1,523 m: 1 under 914 m: 1 (2001) Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 1 914 to 1,523 m: 1 (2001) Military British Virgin Islands -
Military - note: defense is the responsibility of the UK Transnational Issues British Virgin Islands - Disputes - international: none
Illicit drugs: transshipment point for South American narcotics destined for the US and Europe

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▪ islands, Caribbean Sea

      dependent territory of the United Kingdom in the eastern Caribbean Sea. It is part of an island chain collectively known as the Virgin Islands, which makes up the northeastern extremity of the Greater Antilles. Puerto Rico lies to the west. The Virgin Islands are divided administratively between the United Kingdom and the United States, the British territory lying to the north and east of the U.S. islands. The British colony consists of four larger islands ( Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda (Virgin Gorda Island), and Jost Van Dyke (Jost Van Dyke Island)) and 32 smaller islands and islets, of which more than 20 are uninhabited. The chief town and port is Road Town on Tortola (21 square miles [54 square km]), the largest of the islands. The total area of the colony is 59 square miles (153 square km). Pop. (1993 est.) 18,000.

      For information about regional aspects of the British Virgin Islands, see Virgin Islands.

The land
      The British Virgin Islands are a geologic extension of the central fault-block mountains of Puerto Rico and present a variety of physical features, including low mountains, lagoons with coral reefs and barrier beaches, and landlocked harbours. Except for Anegada, the islands are hilly. The highest point is Mount Sage on Tortola, reaching an elevation of 1,709 feet (521 m). The long and narrow Virgin Gorda, with an area of approximately 8 square miles (21 square km), rises to an elevation of more than 1,300 feet (400 m). Jost Van Dyke is a rugged island only about 3 square miles (9 square km) in area. Anegada, the northernmost extension of the colony, is a flat coral island surrounded by dangerous reefs. The British Virgin Islands have no rivers. Their subtropical climate is pleasant and healthy for most of the year, a factor in the islands' important tourist industry. The climate is unvaryingly warm and mild, with temperatures averaging 78° F (26° C) annually. The average annual rainfall is about 50 inches (1,300 mm), much of it occurring from September to December. Hurricanes are infrequent. Much of the islands' original tropical vegetation has been replaced by secondary scrub growth.

The people
      The great majority of British Virgin Islanders are blacks and mulattoes, the descendants of African slaves. Whites constitute a small minority, although their number has grown markedly since 1960. Tortola, of all the islands, has by far the largest population, some four-fifths of the total. About a fourth of all Tortolans live in Road Town. English, the official language and the chief tongue of the people, is often spoken in a Calypso dialect. Religious affiliations are mostly with Protestant denominations, the Methodists being the largest single group.

The economy
      The economic mainstay of the British Virgin Islands is tourism, based on the nearly perfect climate, sparkling beaches, tropical vegetation, and undersea coral reefs. Tourism provides about half of the colony's income and is the largest employer in the islands. Agriculture was the backbone of the economy until tourism replaced it in the 1970s. The most important agricultural activity is livestock raising. The main crops are bananas, sugarcane, citrus fruits, coconuts, mangoes, and various root crops. Some fruits and vegetables continue to be exported, but most crops are grown for local consumption. Fishing in the well-endowed coastal waters is a growing industry, and fresh fish have also become a significant export. Manufacturing is restricted to the production of rum, paint, and building materials (sand and gravel). Cottage industries produce woven baskets and other items that appeal to the tourist trade.

      A bridge connects Tortola on the east to Beef Island, site of the main airport. Direct flights from the Virgin Islands of the United States, Puerto Rico, and the eastern Caribbean are accommodated. Road Harbour on Tortola is a deepwater port.

Government and social conditions.
      The British Virgin Islands are a colony of the United Kingdom. The country is administered under the constitution that came into effect in 1977. The chief executive officer is the governor, who is appointed by the British monarch. The governor is advised by an Executive Council and by a Legislative Council, most of whose members are elected. The general health of the population is good, and literacy is almost 100 percent.

      The Arawak Indians who probably initially occupied the Virgin Islands had been expelled by the warlike Caribs (Carib) by the time Christopher Columbus arrived at the islands in 1493, naming them Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgenes (“St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins”). In 1555 the Habsburg Holy Roman emperor Charles V sent a Spanish invasion force to claim the islands, and by 1596 most of the Caribs had fled or been killed. The islands were an early haunt for buccaneers and pirates. Dutch buccaneers held Tortola until it was taken over in 1666 by English planters. Tortola was annexed by the British-administered Leeward Islands in 1672. The English planters' slave-based sugar plantations declined after slavery was abolished in the first half of the 19th century. In 1872 the islands became part of the Colony of the Leeward Islands, retaining that status until the colony was defederated in 1956. Thereafter, the British Virgin Islands became a separate colony. The colony was given a ministerial form of government in 1967, which was continued under the new constitution of 1977.

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