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Malta is an independent republic in the Commonwealth of Nations consisting of a small group of islandsMalta Gozo Kemmuna Kemmunett and Filflalocated in the Mediterranean Sea south of Sicily The area of the largest island Malta is 95 sq mi of Gozo 26 sq mi and of Kemmuna 1 sq mi The combined area of Kemmunett and Filfla is 012 sq mi The total area is 122 sq mi The capital and leading port of the country is Valletta population 1997 estimate 7172 The population of Malta 2000 estimate is 383285 The overall population density is 3138 per sq mi The islands of Malta consist of low-lying coralline limestone plateaus surrounded by impermeable clay slopes The highest point is 784 ft above sea level The climate is dry and temperate with a average temperature of 66 F Average annual rainfall is about about 22 in Because Malta has no permanent rivers or lakes and precipitation is limited the natural water supply has become a problem The country has implemented a program to desalinate sea water up to 70 percent of Maltas water comes from desalination plants The Maltese are predominantly Roman Catholic and speak a language similar in vocabulary to Arabic although its alphabet and grammatical structure are derived from Latin Both Maltese and English are official languages Italian is widely spoken Education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 16 The University of Malta 1592 in Msida had approximately 5000 students in 1994 Manufacturing for export ship construction and repair and tourism are Maltas chief industries Major manufactures include processed food and beverages textiles and clothing furniture and wood products printing and publishing tobacco products transportation equipment especially ships machinery rubber and plastic goods and chemicals Tourism is increasingly important the country had 12 million visitors in 1998 Shipping-related industries are vital to Maltas economy These industries include shipbuilding facilities naval construction and repair facilities and transshipment centers
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