The Republic of Nauru (Naoero) is the smallest republic in the world on an island so small there is no "official" capital, though its main city Yaren functions as its administrative center.
Nauru is a small oval island in the western Pacific Ocean about midway between Australia and Hawaii and near the equatorabout 42 km (26 miles) south. It is a raised coral outcropping in the ocean and is surrounded by a reef that is exposed at low tide. It is about 21 square km (8 square miles) in area.
There is a small fertile zone along its sandy coasts that is only about 150 to 300 m (492 to 984 feet) wide. While is capable of growing some crops including coconuts, pandanus, bananas, pineapple, some vegetables, it cannot support the people and most of the food is imported. It has no natural harbors, a small lagoon, and a very small island near it.
Much of the island is made up of a coral plateau located at the center of the island. Its highest point is 65 m (213 feet). That is where the only export and the source of the island's economy lies. Part of the plateau is made up of phosphate rock, which was created, over geologic time, by the mixing and solidifying of bird guano with a coral and limestone base. Most of the phosphate has already been mined and has left almost 80% or more of the island a barren wasteland and ecological disaster. Because of the location and the maximum height above sea level, there is danger that rising ocean levels could make Nauru uninhabitable in the areas where people now live.
It has high humidity year round (70% to 80%) and only gets about 46 cm (18 inches) of rainfallsince there are no rivers or streams this was once the source for water on the island (now most water is brought in). Average temperatures range from 23ºC to 32ºC (73ºF to 93ºF).
Phosphate mining and the economy
The only export produced by the island comes from its phosphate mining. The rock is dug up, crushed, and then transported to ships offshore. It is used as fertilizer, mostly in Australia and New Zealand (Japan and South Korea, as well) and is the highest quality in the world. Because of the time it takes for nature to create the phosphate and the limited size of the island, there is almost none left after almost one hundred years of work. This presents some difficult problems for the future, not helped by a growing population with very little room for development without "rehabilitating" the island and turning the area of the plateau into livable land.
Another problem will be the loss of money from what is, essentially, the islands "cash crop" (www.american.edu). Currently, due to the profit made over the years from the mining, the islanders have one of the highest per capita incomes in the world (though with a cost of living higher than most island nations).
With the influx of money and the need for importation of almost all food and consumer and capital goods, Nauruans not only enjoy the comforts and conveniences of the West, but its drawbacks, in the use of alcohol and tobacco, and processed foods high in calories and fat. Since much of the hard labor is done by people not from the island, a sedentary lifestyle predominates. These conditions have led to obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetessome of the highest rates in the world.
Nauru has, over the years, made investments in real estate (mostly Australia), including the office building Nauru House in Melbourne (currently the sixth tallest in the city at 190 m/623 feet and fifty-two stories) owned by the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust. It has also established itself as "tax haven" for overseas bankingsomething that brought accusations of money-laundering for the Russian mafia (estimates have been given around $70 billion US dollars) and threats of sanctions from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. In December 2001, legislation was tightened and the government promised to "investigate any credible evidence that Nauru had been used by the Russian mafia, or other crime organizations, to launder money" (pidp.eastwestcenter.org).
A holdover from its earlier days, the standard unit of currency is the Australian dollar. What limited agriculture there is, is limited to personal consumption. The government is interested in developing, at least a local, fishing industry, establishing the Nauru Fishing Corporation in 1979. It is likely to remain a minimal part of the economy (though everything is dependent on how long the phosphate lasts, estimates that it would be gone by 2000 have been a bit premature, so far).
The population (as of 2000) was almost 12,000. About three-fifths are indigenous, the rest are Pacific islanders from elsewhere, some European, and some Chinese. Both English and Nauruan are spoken (only English written) and the majority of the islanders are Christian (mainly Protestant, some Catholic). Basic health services and schooling are free for the citizens, education being compulsory between six and sixteen. While there are elementary and secondary schools (the Catholic mission has its own), higher education for the islanders is done elsewhere, chiefly Australia.
For the people, there are radio stations, a television station, and a major paper. There is some public transportation and an adequate (understandably small) road system (they drive on the left and the maximum speed limit is about 48 km/30 mph). There is also a railway that is used by the mining company. There is a hotel, an airline with a fleet of Boeing jets, and the Nauru Pacific Line which operates commercial cargo service.
Nauru has a combination of a parliamentary and presidential system. Elections are held every three years (voting is mandatory for anyone over twenty) and a parliament of eighteen members installed by popular vote. The eighteen then vote on a president who will lead the country. He appoints four or five ministers from within the parliament as his cabinet.
There is a three part judicial system with a Family Court, District Court, and Supreme Court, over which a Chief Justice presides. If there are any final appeals, they may be taken to the High Court of Australia.
Nauru was admitted into the UN in 1999.
The flag is dark blue with a gold horizontal stripe bisecting it. In the lower left quarter is a white, twelve-pointed star. The blue represents the ocean, the stripe represents the equator, and the twelve points represent the twelve tribes (see history).
(I'm guessing this is a phonetic representation, since Nauruan has not been standardized as a written language)
Nauru bwiema, ngabena ma auwe.
Ma dedaro bwe dogum, mo otata bet egom.
Atsin ngago bwien okor, ama bagadugu
Epoa ngabuna ri nan orre bet imur.
Ama memag ma nan epodan eredu won engiden,
Miyan aema ngeiyin ouge, Nauru eko dogin!
Nauru our homeland
Nauru our homeland, the land we dearly love,
We all pray for you and we also praise your name.
Since long ago you have been the home of our great forefathers
And will be for generations yet to come.
We all join in together and say;
Nauru for evermore!
The island was first inhabited by Polynesians and Melanesians who traveled from other islands. There was no contact with the outside world until the nineteenth century (it was first sighted by an English ship in 1798 and named "Pleasant Island"). Interaction with the West didn't really begin until the 1830s when whaling ships and trading vessels began to visit. At the time, there were twelve island tribes that followed matrilineal descent.
Not long after contact, some Europeans made their home on the island. Unfortunately for the inhabitants, this also brought nonnative disease, alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. This led to ten years of intertribal warfare that peaked in the 1880s. Concern for their trading interests, Germany put the island under its Marshall Islands protectorate in 1888. This brought order to the island as well as a missionary system that discouraged indigenous religion and culture (leading to a loss of both in favor of a western-based culture). In the next decade, the island's vast resources of phosphate were discovered and in 1906, a British concern began mining there.
During World War I, Australians occupied the island and wrested it from German control. Following the war, it was given a trustee mandate from the League of Nations with Australia, Britain, and New Zealand as administrators. They began mining in earnest.
The island was occupied by the Japanese during World War II and used for an airfield. Most of the population (around 1200 people) were sent to Truk (now Chuuk and part of the Federated States of Micronesia) where they were forced labor (over 400 died). During the occupation the airfield (and island) suffered through bombing runs from United States planes. Australian troops retook the island in 1945 and those that survived the Truk experience returned the following year.
In 1947, Nauru became a United Nations Trust Territory with essentially the same setup as the mandate (Australia took most of the administration duties). In the fifties and sixties, the island gained a degree of self-rule before getting its independence in October 1967. They chose 31 January as their Independence Day in honor of the anniversary of the return of the people from Truk. In 1970, Nauru finally got control of all the mining assets.
In 1989, Nauru filed suit against Australia in the International Court of Justice on the grounds that it should be compensated for the environmental damage caused by the many years of miningAustralia being the main trustee. Also that Australia did a poor job preparing them to be independent. The counter charge was that the Nauruans had mismanaged the export funds and the president had been acting "disinterested in the welfare and fate of his people." Australia further argued that most of the mining had occurred after independence and the agreements made at the time had "nullified any future claims" (www.american.edu).
The ICJ disagreed with Australia's positions. While the court proceedings continued, Australia and Nauru negotiated between themselves, eventually reaching the terms of a settlement in 1993. In addition to the settlement$57 million (in Australian dollars) with an annual payment of $2.5 million (smaller amounts were pledged by Britain and New Zealand). Excess profit from the mining has been invested in trust but it was discovered in 1994 that a lot of it was lost due to poor investing and unethical "borrowing" by the government.
Because the phosphate is nearly gone on the island, tourism is not viable, and there are no other resources, the people of Nauru are facing an uncertain future. There is the possibility of "rehabilitating" the central plateau. This would require knocking down and crushing the pillars and filling in the craters left from the mining, then importing tons of topsoil. This would also require a great deal of money and time. The purchase of another island has also been considered but most islands are already claimed by inhabitants or other states.
In 2001 and 2002, the Australian government used the island as a place to detain (during "processing") refugees, many having fled from Afghanistan.
(Sources: www.britannica.com, www.earth.nwu.edu/people/emile/nauru.html, www.american.edu/ted/NAURU.HTM, www.altapedia.com/online/countries/nauru.htm, www.travel-guide.com/data/nru/nru.asp, www.abc.net.au/ra/pacific/places/country/nauru.htm, www.tbc.gov.bc.ca/cwgames/country/Nauru/nauru2.html, pidp.eastwestcenter.org/pireport/2001/December/12-10-25.htm, www.skyscraperpage.com/diagrams/display.php?city=Melbourne
There is what appears to be a serious and near total governmental breakdown and a cutting off of most outside communication as of early 2003. Am currently waiting to see how this turns out before I attempt to update this. Given that I reside in the US, it's not easy to get news of this sort and I tend to (be lazy) forget to check back on things. If any substantive updates take place, please let me know so I can keep up on the situation. thank you. (sid)