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Despite relative political stability The Gambia has not prospered economically and despite the presence of the Gambia river, which runs through the middle of the country, only one-sixth of the land is arable and poor soil quality has led to the predominance of one crop - peanuts.

This has made The Gambia heavily dependent on peanut exports - and a hostage to fluctuations in the production and world prices of the crop. Consequently, the country relies on foreign aid to fill gaps in its balance of payments.

Tourism is an important source of foreign exchange, as is the money sent home by Gambians living abroad. Most visitors are drawn to the resorts that occupy a stretch of the Atlantic coast.

The Gambia, also known affectionately as the Smiling Coast is one of Africa's smallest countries and unlike many of its West African neighbours it has enjoyed long spells of stability since independence. On 18 February 1965, Gambia gained independence from the United Kingdom and joined The Commonwealth. Banjul is Gambia's capital, but the largest conurbations are Serekunda and Brikama. Its area is almost 10,500 km with an estimated population of 1,700,000. An agriculturally fertile country, its economy is dominated by farming, fishing, and tourism. About a third of the population lives below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day.

Area: 11,295 sq km

Capital: Banjul

Official Language: English

Population: 1.7 million (2008 est.)

Religion: 90% Muslim

Climate: Sub-tropical with 1 dry

and 1 rainy season

Annual rainfall: 1296mm

Life expectancy: 53 years men,

57 years women

Gross national income per capita

(PPP international $) 1,280 

Life expectancy at birth m/f (years) 58/61 

Probability of dying under five (per 1 000 live births) 112 

Probability of dying between 15 and 60 years m/f

(per 1 000 population) 296/246 

Total expenditure on health per capita (Intl $, 2009) 84 

Total expenditure on health as % of GDP (2009) 6.0 

(Figures are for 2009 unless indicated.

Source: Global Health Observatory)