Commonwealth of the Bahamas
FLAG: Three horizontal stripes of blue, gold, and blue, with a black triangle at the hoist.
ANTHEM: March on Bahamaland.
MONETARY UNIT: The Bahamas dollar (b$) of 100 cents has been in use since May 1966. As of June 1972, the Bahamas dollar ceased to be part of the sterling area and was set on a par with the U.S. dollar. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 15, 25, and 50 cents, and 1, 2, and 5 dollars, and notes of 50 cents and 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 dollars. b$1.00000 (or us$1=b$1; as of 2004).
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: Imperial weights and measures are in use.
HOLIDAYS: New Year’s Day, 1 January; Labor Day, first Friday in June; Independence Day, 10 July; Emancipation Day, first Monday in August; Discovery Day, 12 October; Christmas Day, 25 December; Boxing Day, 26 December. Movable religious holidays include Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Whitmonday.
TIME: 7 am = noon GMT.
The Commonwealth of the Bahamas occupies a 13,940-square-kilometer (5,382-square-mile) group of islands in the North Atlantic Ocean between southeast Florida and northern Hispaniola. The area occupied by the Bahamas is slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut. There are nearly 700 islands, of which about 30 are inhabited. The total coastline is 3,542 kilometers (2,201 miles).
The Bahamas’ capital city, Nassau, is located on New Providence Island in the center of the island group.
The islands are for the most part low and flat, rising to a peak elevation of about 63 meters (206 feet) at Mount Alvernia on Cat Island. The lowest point is at sea level. The terrain is broken by lakes (though none of them are major) and mangrove swamps, and the shorelines are marked by coral reefs.
Temperatures average 20.3°c (68.5°f) in winter and 27.4°c (81.3°f) in summer. Rainfall averages
Area: 13,940 sq km (5,382 sq mi)
Size ranking: 156 of 194
Highest elevation: 63 meters (206 feet) at Mount Alvernia on Cat Island
Lowest elevation: Sea level at the Atlantic Ocean
Arable land: 1%
Permanent crops: 0%
Average annual precipitation: 121.6 centimeters (47.9 inches)
Average temperature in January: 20.3°c (68.5°f)
Average temperature in July: 27.4°c (81.3°f)
* Arable Land: Land used for temporary crops, like meadows for mowing or pasture, gardens, and greenhouses.
Permanent crops: Land cultivated with crops that occupy its use for long periods, such as cocoa, coffee, rubber, fruit and nut orchards, and vineyards.
Other: Any land not specified, including built-on areas, roads, and barren land.
** The measurements for precipitation and average temperatures were taken at weather stations closest to the country’s largest city.
Precipitation and average temperature can vary significantly within a country, due to factors such as latitude, altitude, coastal proximity, and wind patterns.
121.6 centimeters (47.9 inches) and there are occasional hurricanes.
The islands abound in such tropical plants as bougainvillea, jasmine, oleander, orchid, and yellow elder. Native trees include the black olive, casuarina, cascarilla, cork tree, manchineel, pimento, and seven species of palm. There are 218 species and subspecies of birds, including flamingos, hummingbirds, and other small birds and waterfowl.
The government’s environmental priorities include monitoring industrial operations, providing drinkable water and regular garbage collection throughout the country, maintenance and beautification of public parks and beaches, and removal of abandoned vehicles. Other significant environmental issues are the impact of tourism on the environment, coral reef decay, waste disposal, and water pollution. Land clearing for agricultural purposes is a significant environmental problem because it threatens the habitats of the nation’s wildlife.
Endangered species include Kirtland’s warbler, Bachman’s warbler, green sea turtle, hawks-bill turtle, Allen Cays rock iguana, and Watling Island ground iguana. The Caribbean monk seal and American crocodile are extinct. Of seventeen species of mammals, five are threatened. Ten species of birds are threatened. Of a total of 204 species of reptiles, 6 are threatened. Fifteen species of fish and five species of plants are also threatened.
The population in 2005 was estimated at 319,000. About 89% of the people reside in urban areas. Nassau, the largest city, lies on the island of New Providence. Nassau’s population was estimated at 222,000 in 2005.
Some Bahamians migrate to the United States in search of employment. There is also inter-island migration, chiefly to New Providence and Grand Bahama islands.
The country’s location between the United States and other Caribbean islands has made it a transit point for migrants, including asylum seekers, trying to reach the United States. An estimated 100 Cuban nationals seek asylum in the Bahamas each month. As of 2000, there were 30,000 migrants living in the Bahamas, including 100 refugees. The net migration rate of the Bahamas was estimated at -2.18 migrants per 1,000 population in 2005.
Descendants of slaves brought to the islands from Africa make up about 85% of the population. About 12% of the total is white, largely of British origin. About 3% are Asian or Hispanic. Residents of the Bahamas are called Bahamians.
English is the spoken and official language of the Bahamas. Haitian immigrants speak French or a Creole patois (dialect).
The population is overwhelmingly Christian, with Baptists comprising about 35%. About 15% of the population are Anglicans and about 24% belong to other Protestant groups such as Pentecostals (8%), the Church of God (5%), Methodists (4%), Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, and the Salvation Army. About
13.5% are Roman Catholics. There is also a strong Greek Orthodox community. Smaller groups include Jews, Baha’is, Muslims, Hindus, and Rastafarians. Traditional practices known to scholars as voodoo or obeah continue to be observed in some areas.
Religion, with a focus on Christianity, is considered an academic subject in government schools. Although students may freely choose not to participate in religious instruction or
Name: Perry Gladstone Christie
Position: Prime minister of a constitutional parliamentary democracy
Took Office: 3 May 2002
Birthplace: Nassau, The Bahamas
Birthdate: 21 August 1943
Education: University Tutorial College in London, Inner Temple, and the University of Birmingham, UK, L.L.B. degree with honors in 1969
Spouse: Bernadette Hanna, an accountant and lawyer
Children: Two sons, Steffan and Adam, and a daughter, Alexandra
Of interest: Christie set up his own law practice, Christie Ingraham and Company. He enjoys gardening.
observances outside of their own faith, the topic is included in mandatory standardized tests.
In 2002, there were about 2,693 kilometers (1,673 miles) of highways, of which 1,546 kilometers (961 miles) were paved. There were 83,500 passenger cars and 27,000 commercial vehicles in 2003. There are no railways.
In 2005, this archipelago nation had a merchant fleet of 1,119 ships of 1,000 gross registered tons or over. Nassau is a major port of call for cruise ships, which visit Freeport as well. Airports in 2004 totaled 63, of which 30 had paved runways. There are international airports at Nassau and Freeport, with frequent connections to the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In 2001, scheduled domestic and international airline flights carried 1,625,700 passengers. Bahamas Air, a state-owned enterprise, is the national airline.
The first permanent European settlement was established in 1647 by a group of religious refugees from England. They and later settlers imported blacks as slaves during the 17th century.
The British established a crown colony on the islands in 1717. After the end of slavery in 1838, the Bahamas served only as a source of sponges and occasionally as a strategic location. During the U.S. Civil War (1861–65), Confederate blockade runners operated from the islands. After World War I (1914–18), Prohibition rumrunners used the islands as a base. During World War II (1939–45), the United States used them for naval bases.
The Bahamas achieved independence in stages, with full independence granted on 10 July 1973. The country’s first prime minister, Lynden O. Pindling, ruled for nearly 20 years, during which the Bahamas benefited from tourism and foreign investment. By the early 1980s, the islands also had become a major center for the drug trade. In August 1992, the Bahamas had its first transfer of political power, when Hubert Ingraham became prime minister. Ingraham was reelected in 1997 to another four-year term.
In 1999, Hurricane Floyd did extensive damage in the Abacos and Eleuthra, hurting tourism revenues in those areas.
In the elections of May 2002, Perry Christie became the new prime minister. Christie promised to bring more diversified development to the tourism-dependent economy. He also vowed to further develop the country’s fast-growing financial industry.
In September 2004, Hurricane Frances caused widespread damage. Three weeks later, Hurricane Jeanne uprooted trees and flooded neighborhoods with seawater.
In May 2005 Prime Minister Christie suffered a stroke. Christie returned to work, but hinted that he might call early elections. The next elections were scheduled for May 2007.
The Bahamas has a republican form of government, formally headed by the British sovereign, who is represented by a governor-general. A prime minister and a cabinet have executive authority. The two-chamber legislature consists of a 16-member Senate appointed by the governor-general and an elected 40-member House of Assembly. The prime minister is the leader of the majority party in the House. There are 21 administrative districts, consisting of various islands and groups of islands.
The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) emerged as the Bahamas’ majority party in the early 1970s. The Free Progressive Liberal Party formed in 1970. It merged with another opposition group, the United Bahamian Party, to form the Free National Movement (FNM). After years of loyal opposition, the FNM took power in 1992, winning 32 seats, compared to 17 for the PLP. Its majority was increased to 34 seats in the 1997 elections. In 2002, however, the PLP won 29 seats in the 40-member legislature, enough to command majority control once again.
The highest court is the Court of Appeal, consisting of three judges. Ultimate appeals go to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. (The Bahamas was not one of the eight Caribbean nations that ratified a treaty in 2003 establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice to handle some cases formerly heard by the Privy Council.) Lower courts include three magistrates’ courts
Yearly Growth Rate
This economic indicator tells by what percent the economy has increased or decreased when compared with the previous year.
on New Providence and one on Freeport. Police abuse of suspects has been a serious problem. In 1993, a coroner’s court was established to investigate cases in which criminal suspects die while in police custody.
The Royal Bahamas Defense Force was made up of 860 sailors in 2005. Seventy of the sailors were women. The Royal Bahamas Defense Force is responsible for external security. Defense expenditures totaled us$32 million in 2005.
Tourism, the mainstay of the economy, directly or indirectly involves most of the population. Because there is no direct taxation, the Bahamas also has become a haven for a variety of financial companies. The economy grew by 3.7% in
Components of the Economy
This pie chart shows how much of the country’s economy is devoted to agriculture (including forestry, hunting, and fishing), industry, or services.
2005. Steady economic growth brought a steady decline in unemployment, from 11.5% in 1996 to an estimated 6.9% in 2001. In 2004 unemployment climbed to 10.2% because of a downturn in tourism. Inflation remained low at 1.2% in 2004.
In 2005, the Bahamas’ gross domestic product (GDP) was us$5.7 billion, or us$18,800 per person. The annual growth rate of the GDP was estimated at 3.7%.
Refined petroleum, cement, and rum production are important, and enterprises producing pharmaceuticals, sea salt, and steel pipe have been developed. The Commonwealth Brewery in Nassau produces Heineken, Guinness, and Kalik beers. Cruise ships are repaired at a wet dock facility in Freeport.
The total number of workers was estimated at 156,000 in 1999, with the overwhelming majority employed in tourism or tourist-related activities. About 25% of the labor force was unionized in 2001. About 80% of hotel employees belong to a union. Unemployment in 2004 stood at 10.2%.
In the Bahamas, children under the age of 14 are prohibited from industrial work or during school hours. Children under the age of 16 are prohibited from working at night.
Agriculture is carried out on small plots throughout most of the islands. Only about 1% of the land area is cultivated. The main crops are onions, okra, and tomatoes. About 80% of the islands’ food supply must be imported. Orange, grapefruit, and cucumber production in Abaco is mainly for exports. Agricultural products in 2004 included about 55,500 tons of sugarcane, 13,000 tons of grapefruit, 8,700 tons of lemons and lime, 5,000 tons or tomatoes, and 880 tons of sweet potatoes.
The livestock population in 2004 included some 750 head of cattle, 6,500 sheep, 14,500 goats, 15,000 hogs, and 3 million poultry. That year about 700 tons of cow’s milk, 1,050 tons of goat’s milk, and 900 tons of eggs are produced. Poultry production (8,050 tons) accounted for almost all domestic meat production. In December 1991, the government banned foreign chicken to protect local poultry producers from cheaper imports.
The 2003 catch amounted to 12,736 tons, over 81% of which was spiny lobsters (crayfish). Crayfish and conch exports are commercially important. There is excellent sport fishing for wahoo, dolphin fish, and tuna in Bahamian waters. In 2003, fisheries exports totaled us$93.8 million. Since the Bahamas imports 80% of its food, the government is interested in expanding the role of domestic commercial fishing.
Caribbean pine and cascarilla bark are the major forestry products, but there is no commercial forestry industry. About 32% of the total land area consists of forests and woodlands. Roundwood production in 2003 totaled 17,000 cubic meters (600,000 cubic feet). That year, the Bahamas imported us$21.3 million in wood and forest products.
Salt and aragonite stone, a component in glass manufacture, were the two most commercially important mineral products, with estimated 2003 production figures of 900,000 tons for salt and 1.2 million tons for aragonite. The major salt producer on the islands was Morton Bahamas Salt Company, the only major industry and the largest employer on the island of Inagua. Limestone sand was produced by Freeport Aggregate Ltd. for the local construction industry.
Yearly Balance of Trade
The balance of trade is the difference between what a country sells to other countries (its exports) and what it buys (its imports). If a country imports more than it exports, it has a negative balance of trade (a trade deficit). If exports exceed imports there is a positive balance of trade (a trade surplus).
Exports include pharmaceuticals, cement, rum, crawfish, and aragonite. Imports are primarily composed of foodstuffs, manufactured goods, hotel, restaurant, and medical supplies, and computers and electronics. About 83% of imports arrive from the United States. The Bahamas’ major trade partners are the United States, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, Venezuela, and Japan.
Electricity production totaled more than 1.716 billion kilowatt hours per year in 2004. Fossil fuel accounts for all power production. Gas turbines were added to the Blue Hill Power Station in the early 2000s.
Workers’ compensation and retirement, maternity, survivors’, and funeral benefits are provided. Bahamian women are well represented in business, the professions, and government. The constitution does not allow foreign-born husbands of Bahamian women to become citizens. Inheritance laws also discriminate against women. Reported acts of violence against women increased in 2004. The government has authorized establishment of two battered women’s shelters and a toll-free domestic violence hotline.
The government operates the 436-bed Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau and two other hospitals, the Sandilands Rehabilitation Center and the 82-bed Rand Memorial Hospital. In addition, 57 clinics and 54 satellite clinics are maintained throughout the islands, with emergency air links to Nassau. In 2004, there were 105 physicians, 447 nurses, and 7 dentists per 100,000.
In 2005, the infant mortality rate was 25 per 1,000 live births. In 2000, low birth weight babies accounted for an estimated 10.4% of all births. Average life expectancy in 2005 was 65.5 years, down from 74 years in 1999.
In 2000, 28% of all deaths were attributed to diseases of the circulatory system, 20% to communicable diseases, 14% to cancer, and the remainder to other causes. As of 2004, a total of 5,600 people were living with human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), including 1,111 who had shown symptoms of AIDS. There were 200 deaths from AIDS in 2003.
Selected Social Indicators
The statistics below are the most recent estimates available as of 2006. For comparison purposes, data for the United States and averages for low-income countries and high-income countries are also given. About 15% of the world’s 6.5 billion people live in high-income countries, while 37% live in low-income countries.
|Indicator||The Bahamas||Low-income countries||High-income countries||United States|
|sources: World Bank. World Development Indicators. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2006; Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2006; World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.|
|Per capita gross national income (GNI)*||$16,350||$2,258||$31,009||$39,820|
|Population growth rate||0.6%||2%||0.8%||1.2%|
|People per square kilometer of land||32||80||30||32|
|Life expectancy in years: male||62||58||76||75|
|Number of physicians per 1,000 people||1.1||0.4||3.7||2.3|
|Number of pupils per teacher (primary school)||n.a.||43||16||15|
|Literacy rate (15 years and older)||95.6%||65%||>95%||99%|
|Television sets per 1,000 people||246||84||735||938|
|Internet users per 1,000 people||293||28||538||630|
|Energy consumed per capita (kg of oil equivalent)||n.a.||501||5,410||7,843|
|CO2 emissions per capita (metric tons)||6.71||0.85||12.97||19.92|
|* The GNI is the total of all goods and services produced by the residents of a country in a year. The per capita GNI is calculated by dividing a country’s GNI by its population and adjusting for relative purchasing power.|
|n.a.: data not available >: greater than <: less than|
Hurricanes in the 1990s damaged thousands of homes. Overcrowding is a problem on New Providence, and decent low-cost housing is in short supply. The Bahamas Housing Authority was established in 1983 to develop housing for low-income people.
As of 2001, the government had also launched a “new birth” program to renovate dwellings in traditional communities and to create new housing in urban centers, particularly for low or middle-class residents.
Education is free in all government-maintained schools. English is the official language. Primary education begins at age five and lasts for six years. Secondary education begins at age eleven and consists of two cycles, each lasting three years. Education is compulsory for children aged five to sixteen.
Post-secondary training is provided by the government primarily through the College of the Bahamas, which provides a two-year or three-year program leading to an associate’s degree. It also offers a bachelor’s degree in education. Other schools of continuing education offering academic and vocational courses include the Bahamas Hotel Training College, the Catholic Continuing Education College of Saint Barnabas, and the Industrial Training College. In addition, the Bahamas has been affiliated with the University of the West Indies since 1960.
As of 2004, the adult illiteracy rate was estimated at about 4% (males, 5%; females, 3%).
All telephone, telegraph, and teletype service is provided by the Bahamas Telecommunications Corp. In 2003, there were 131,700 mainline telephones in service. In 2002, there were about 121,800 cellular phones in use.
In 2004, there were six radio stations, with only one (ZNS Bahamas) owned and operated by the government. There were two television stations. In 1997 there were 215,000 radios and 67,000 television sets in use nationwide. In 2003 there were about 84,000 Internet users.
Three daily newspapers are published in the country. The Nassau Daily Tribune had a circulation of 12,000 in 2002 while The Nassau Guardian had a circulation of 14,100. The daily Freeport News has a circulation of 4,000. All three papers are privately owned. There are also several weekly papers.
In 2003, 1.5 million tourists visited the islands. Most came from the United States. In the same year, tourists spent a total of us$1.8 billion in the islands, and there were 15,393 hotel rooms and 30,786 beds, with a 59% occupancy rate.
Visitors are attracted to the Bahamas’ excellent climate, beaches, and recreational and resort facilities. Water sports (including excellent deep-sea fishing) are the favorite pastimes.
Lynden Oscar Pindling (1930–2000), a lawyer and leader of the PLP, became the Bahamas’ first prime minister following independence in 1973. He was succeeded by Hubert Ingraham (b. 1947) in 1992. American-born actor Sidney Poitier (b. 1924) was appointed Bahamian ambassador to Japan in 1997.
Barlas, Robert. Bahamas. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2000.
Craton, Michael. Islanders in the Stream: A History of the Bahamian People. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992.
Hintz, Martin. The Bahamas. New York: Children’s Press, 1997.
Johnson, Howard. The Bahamas: From Slavery to Servitude. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1996.
Williams, Colleen Madonna Flood. Bahamas. Philadelphia, PA: Mason Crest Publishers, 2004.
Commonwealth Country Profiles. www.thecommonwealth.org/Templates/YearbookHomeInternal.asp?NodeID=140006. (accessed on January 15, 2007).
Country Pages. www.state.gov/p/wha/ci/bf/. (accessed on January 15, 2007).
Government Home Page. www.bahamas.com. (accessed on January 15, 2007).