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Nauru , officially the Republic of Nauru and formerly known as Pleasant Island, is an island nation in Micronesia in the South Pacificmarker. Its nearest neighbor is Banaba Islandmarker in Kiribatimarker, 300 km to the east. Nauru is the world's smallest island nation, covering just 21 square kilometres (8.1 square miles).

Settled by Micronesian and Polynesian people, Nauru was annex and claimed as a colony by the German Empiremarker in the late 19th century. After World War I, Nauru became a League of Nations mandate administered by Australia, New Zealandmarker, and the United Kingdommarker. During World War II, Nauru was occupied by Japanesemarker troops who were bypassed by the Allied advance across the Pacific, and after the war ended, it entered into trusteeship again. Nauru was declared independent in 1968.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Nauru was a "rentier state". Nauru is a phosphate rock island, with deposits close to the surface, which allow for simple strip mining operations. This island was a major exporter of phosphate starting in 1907, when the Pacific Phosphate Company began mining there, through the formation of the British Phosphate Commission in 1919, and continuing after independence. This gave Nauru back full control of its minerals under the Nauru Phosphate Corporation, until the deposits ran out during the 1980s. For this reason, Nauru briefly boasted the highest per-capita income enjoyed by any sovereign state in the world during the late 1960s and early 1970s. When the phosphate reserves were exhausted, and the environment had been seriously harmed by mining, the trust established to manage the island's wealth became greatly reduced in value. To earn income, the government resorted to unusual measures. In the 1990s, Nauru briefly became a tax haven and illegal money laundering center. From 2001 to 2008, it accepted aid from the Australian government in exchange for housing an illegal migrant detention center that held and processed asylum seekers trying to enter Australia.

From December 2005 to September 2006, Nauru became partially isolated from the outside world when Air Nauru, the only airline with service to the island, ceased to operate. (The only outside access to Nauru was then by ocean-going ships.) The airline was able to restart operations under the name Our Airline with monetary aid from Taiwanmarker.


Nauruan warrior, 1880
Nauru was first inhabited by Micronesian and Polynesian people at least 3,000 years ago. There were traditionally 12 clans or tribes on Nauru, which are represented in the 12-pointed star in the nation's flag. Nauruans traced their descent on the female side. Naurans practiced aquaculture - they caught juvenile ibija fish, acclimatized them to fresh water, and raised them in the Buada Lagoonmarker, providing an additional, and more reliable source of food. The other locally-grow components of their diet included coconuts and pandanus fruit.

The British sea captain John Fearn, a whale hunter, became the first Westerner to visit this island in 1798, and he named it "Pleasant Island". From around 1830, Nauruans had contact with Europeans from whaling ships and traders who replenished their supplies (such as fresh water) at Nauru. Around this time, deserters from the ships began to live on the island. The islanders traded food for alcoholic palm wine and firearms. The firearms were used during the 10-year Nauruan Tribal War that began in 1878, and by 1888 had resulted in a reduction of the population of Nauru from 1400 to 900 people.

Colonial period

Nauru was annexed by Germany in 1888 and incorporated into Germany's Marshall Islandmarker Protectorate. The Germans called the island Nawodo or Onawero. The arrival of the Germans ended the war, and social changes brought about by the war established kings as rulers of the island. The most widely-known of these was King Auweyida. Christian missionaries from the Gilbert Islands arrived in 1888. The Germans ruled Nauru for almost three decades. Robert Rasch, a German Trader who married a native woman, was the first administrator, appointed in 1890.

Phosphate was discovered on Nauru in 1900 by the prospector Albert Ellis. The Pacific Phosphate Company started to exploit the reserves in 1906 by agreement with Germany. The company exported its first shipment in 1907. In 1914, following the outbreak of World War I, Nauru was captured by Australian troops. Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom signed the Nauru Island Agreement in 1919, creating a board known as the British Phosphate Commission (BPC). This took over the rights to phosphate mining.According to the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics (now the Australian Bureau of Statistics), "In common with other natives, the islanders are very susceptible to tuberculosis and influenza, and in 1921 an influenza epidemic caused the deaths of 230 islanders." In 1923, the League of Nations gave Australia a trustee mandate over Nauru, with the United Kingdom and New Zealand being co-trustees, also.

World War II

On the 6th and 7th of December, 1940, the German auxiliary cruisers Komet and Orion sunk four supply ships in the vicinity of Nauru. On the next day, Komet shelled Nauru's phosphate mining areas, oil storage depots, and the shiploading cantilever. The attacks seriously disrupted phosphate supplies to Australia and New Zealand (mostly used for munition and fertilizer purposes.)

Japanesemarker troops occupied Nauru on 26 August 1942. The Japanese troops built an airfield on Nauru which was bombed for the first time on 25 March 1943, preventing food supplies from being flown to Nauru. The Japanese deported 1,200 Nauruans to work as laborers in the Chuuk islandsmarker. Nauru, which had been bypassed and left to "wither on the vine" by American forces, was finally set free from the Japanese on 13 September 1945, when Captain Solda, the commander of all the Japanese troops on Nauru, surrendered the island to the Royal Australian Navy and Army. This surrender was accepted by the brigadier J. R. Stevenson, who represented Lieutenant General Sturdee, the commander of the First Australian Army, on board the warship HMAS Diamantinamarker Arrangements were made to repatriate from Chuuk the 737 Nauruans who survived Japanese captivity there. They were returned to Nauru by the BPC ship Trienza in January 1946. In 1947, a trusteeship was established by the United Nations, and Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom became the U.N. trustees of the island.


Nauru became self-governing in January 1966, and following a two-year constitutional convention, it became independent in 1968, led by founding president Hammer DeRoburt. In 1967, the people of Nauru purchased the assets of the British Phosphate Commissioners, and in June 1970, control passed to the locally-owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation. Income from the exploitation of phosphate gave Nauruans one of the highest living standards in the Pacific and per capita, in the world.

In 1989, Nauru took legal actions against Australia in the International Court of Justicemarker over Australia's actions during its administration of Nauru. In particular, Nauru made a legal complaint against Australia's failure to remedy the environmental damage caused by phosphate mining. Certain Phosphate Lands: Nauru v. Australia led to an out-of-court settlement to rehabilitate the mined-out areas of Nauru.

International Agreements


Nauru is a republic with a parliamentary system of government. The president is both the head of state and of government. An 18-member unicameral parliament is elected every three years. The parliament elects a President from its members, and the President appoints a cabinet of five to six members. Nauru does not have any formal structure for political parties. Candidates typically stand for office as independents. Fifteen of the 18 members of the current Parliament are independents, and alliances within the government are often formed on the basis of extended family ties. Three parties that have sometimes been active in Nauruan politics are the Democratic Party, Nauru First, and the Centre Party.
Current president Marcus Stephen
Nauru parliament
Since 1992, local government has been the responsibility of the Nauru Island Council (NIC). The NIC has limited powers, and it functions as an advisor to the national government on local matters. The role of the NIC is to concentrate its efforts on local activities relevant to Nauruans. An elected member of the Nauru Island Council cannot simultaneously be a member of parliament. Land tenure on Nauru is unusual: all Nauruans have certain rights to all land on the island, which is owned by individuals and family groups. Government and corporate entities do not own any land, and they must enter into a lease arrangement with the landowners to use land. Non-Nauruans cannot own land here.

Nauru had 17 changes of administration between 1989 and 2003. Between 1999 and 2003, a series of no-confidence votes and elections resulted in two people, René Harris and Bernard Dowiyogo, leading the country for alternating periods. Dowiyogo died in office in March 2003 and Ludwig Scotty was elected as the President. Scotty was re-elected to serve a full term in October 2004. Following a vote of "no confidence" by Parliament against President Scotty on 19 December 2007, Marcus Stephen became the President.

Nauru has a complex legal system. Its Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice, is paramount on constitutional issues. Other cases can be appealed to the two-judge Appellate Court. Parliament cannot overturn court decisions, but Appellate Court rulings can be appealed to the High Court of Australiamarker. However, in practice, this rarely happens. Lower courts consist of the District Court and the Family Court, both of which are headed by a Resident Magistrate, who also is the Registrar of the Supreme Court. Finally, there also are two quasi-courts: the Public Service Appeal Board and the Police Appeal Board, both of which are presided over by the Chief Justice.

Nauru with its small population has no armed forces. Under an informal agreement, its defense is the responsibility of Australia. There is a small police force under civilian control.

Nauru is divided into fourteen administrative districts which are grouped into eight electoral constituencies. The districts are:


Foreign relations

Following independence in 1968, Nauru joined the Commonwealth of Nations as a Special Member, and it became a full member in 2000. Nauru was admitted to the Asian Development Bank in 1991 and to the United Nations in 1999. Nauru is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, the South Pacific Regional Environmental Program, the South Pacific Commission, and the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission. The American Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program operates a climate-monitoring facility on Nauru.
Symbol of the Pacific Islands Forum
Nauru and Australia have close diplomatic ties. In addition to the informal defense arrangements, the September 2005 Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries provides Nauru with financial aid and technical assistance, including a Secretary of Finance to prepare Nauru's budget, and advisers on health and education. This aid is in return for Nauru's housing of asylum seekers while their applications for entry into Australia are processed. Nauru uses the Australian dollar as its official currency.

Nauru has used its position as a member of the United Nations to gain financial support from both the Republic of Chinamarker (ROC) and the People's Republic of Chinamarker (PRC) by changing its position on the political status of Taiwan. During 2002, Nauru signed an agreement to establish diplomatic relations with the PRC on 21 July. This move followed Premier Zhu Rongji's promise to provide more than 60 million American dollars in aid. In response, the ROC severed diplomatic relations with Nauru two days later. Nauru later re-established links with the ROC on 14 May 2005, and diplomatic ties with the PRC were officially severed on 31 May 2005. However, the PRC continues to maintain a diplomatic presence (a consulate?) on Nauru.

In recent times, a significant portion of Nauru's income has been in the form of aid from Australia. In 2001, the MV Tampa, a Norwegianmarker ship that had rescued 433 refugees (from various countries including Afghanistanmarker) from a stranded 20-meter-long boat and was seeking to dock in Australia, was diverted to Nauru as part of the Pacific Solution. Nauru operated the detention center in exchange for Australian aid. By November 2005, only two refugees, Mohammed Sagar and Muhammad Faisal, remained on Nauru from those first sent there in 2001, with Sagar finally resettling in early 2007. The Australian government sent further groups of asylum-seekers to Nauru in late 2006 and early 2007. In late January 2008, following Australia's decision to close the processing center, Nauru announced that they will request a new aid deal to ease the resulting blow to the economy.


Nauru is a small, oval-shaped island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, 42 km (26 miles) south of the Equator. The island is surrounded by a coral reef, which is exposed at low tide and dotted with pinnacles. The reef is bound seaward by deep water, and on the inside by a sandy beach. The presence of the reef has prevented the establishment of a seaport, although 16 artificial channels have been made in the reef to allow small boats to access the island. A 150 to 300 meter (about 500 to 1000 ft.) wide fertile coastal strip lies inland from the beach. Coral cliffs surround Nauru's central plateau, which is known as "Topside". The highest point of the plateau, called the Command Ridgemarker, is 71 meters above sea level. The only fertile areas on Nauru are the narrow coastal belt, where coconut palms flourish. The land surrounding Buada Lagoonmarker supports bananas, pineapples, vegetables, pandanus trees, and indigenous hardwoods such as the tomano tree. The population of Nauru is concentrated in the coastal belt and around Buada Lagoon.
Map of Nauru
Nauru was one of three great phosphate rock islands in the Pacific Ocean (the others were Banabamarker (Ocean Island) in Kiribatimarker and Makateamarker in French Polynesiamarker). However, the phosphate reserves on Nauru are depleted for all practical purposes. Phosphate mining in the central plateau has left a barren terrain of jagged limestone pinnacles up to 15 meters (49 ft.) high. A century of mining has stripped and devastated about 80% of the land area. Mining has also impacted the surrounding Exclusive Economic Zone, with 40% of marine life estimated to have been killed by silt and phosphate runoff.

There are quite limited natural fresh water resources on Nauru. Rooftop storage tanks collect rainwater, but the islanders are mostly dependent on a single, aging desalination plant. Nauru's climate is hot and very humid year-round—because of the proximity of the land to the Equator and the ocean. Nauru is hit by monsoon rains between November and February. Annual rainfall is highly variable and is influenced by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, with several significant recorded droughts. The temperature on Nauru ranges between 26 and 35° Celsius (79 to 95°Fahrenheit) during the day and between 25 and 28° Celsius (77 to 82°F.) at night . As an island nation, Nauru is quite vulnerable to climate change and sea level change, but to what degree is difficult to predict. At least 80% of the land of Nauru is well-elevated, but this area will be uninhabitable until the phosphate mining rehabilitation program is implemented. Also, the agricultural area of Nauru is quite close to the seashore.

There are only about 60 recorded vascular plant species native to the island, none of which are endemic. Coconut farming, mining, and introduced species have caused serious disturbance to the native vegetation. There are no native land mammals, but there are native birds, including the endemic Nauru Reed Warbler, insects, and land crabs. The Polynesian rat, cats, dogs, pigs, and chickens have been introduced to Nauru from ships, either accidentally or on purpose.


An aerial image of Nauru in 2002 from the U.S.
Department of Energy's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program.
Regenerated vegetation covers 63% of land that was mined.
The Nauruan economy peaked in the early 1980s. Nauru's economy depended almost entirely on the phosphate deposits that originated from the droppings of sea birds. There are few other resources, and most necessities are imported. Small-scale mining is still conducted by the RONPhos, formerly known as the Nauru Phosphate Corporation. The government places a percentage of RONPhos's earnings into the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust. The Trust manages long-term investments, intended to support the citizens once the phosphate reserves have been exhausted.

The Trust's fixed and current assets, many of which were in Melbournemarker, were reduced considerably, and many never fully recovered. Some of the failed investments included financing 1993's Leonardo the Musical, which was a financial failure, the purchase of the vacant Carlton and United Breweries site on Swanston Street in 1994 which was sold undeveloped in 1998, a loan to the Fitzroy Football Club which went into liquidation in 1996, and the Queen Victoria Villagemarker site which was repossessed in 1999.

The Mercure Hotel in Sydney and Nauru Housemarker in Melbournemarker were sold in 2004 to finance debts and Air Nauru's only Boeing 737, which was repossessed in December 2005. Normal air service resumed after the aircraft was replaced with a Boeing 737-300 airliner in June 2006.

The value of the Trust is estimated to have shrunken from 1,300 million Australian dollars in 1991 to 138 million dollars in 2002. In 2005, the corporation sold its property asset in Melbourne, the vacant Savoy Tavern site, for $7.5 milliion. Nauru currently lacks money to perform many of the basic functions of government. For example, the National Bank of Nauru is insolvent. The CIA World Factbook estimated GDP per capita at $5,000 in 2005. The Asian Development Bank 2007 economic report on Nauru estimated GDP per capita at $2400 to $2715.
There are no personal taxes in Nauru. The unemployment rate is estimated to be 90%, and the government employs 95% of those Nauruans who work. The Asian Development Bank notes that although the Administration has a strong public mandate to implement economic reforms, in the absence of an alternative to phosphate mining, the medium-term outlook is for continued dependence on external assistance. The sale of deep-sea fishing rights to other countries may generate some revenue. Tourism is not a major contributor to the economy, because there is little to see or do here, the climate is very unpleasant, and there are few facilities for tourists. The Menen Hotelmarker and the OD-N-Aiwo Hotelmarker are the only two hotels on the island.

In the 1990s, Nauru became a tax haven and it offered passports to foreign nationals for a fee. The inter-governmental Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) then identified Nauru as one of 15 "non-cooperative" countries in its fight against money laundering. During the 1990s, it was possible to establish a licensed bank in Nauru for $25,000, no questions asked. Under pressure from FATF, Nauru introduced anti-avoidance legislation in 2003, after which foreign hot money flew out of the country. In October 2005, thanks to this legislation and its effective enforcement, FATF lifted the non-cooperative designation.

From 2001 to 2007, the Nauru detention centre provided a source of income for Nauru. The Nauruan authorities reacted with concern to its closure by Australia. In February 2008, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr. Kieren Keke, stated that it would result in 100 Nauruans losing their jobs, and would affect 10% of the island's population directly or indirectly:
"We have got a huge number of families that are suddenly going to be without any income. We are looking at ways we can try and provide some welfare assistance but our capacity to do that is very limited. Literally we have got a major unemployment crisis in front of us."


Nauru had 9,265 residents at end of 2006. The population was previously larger, but in 2006 some 1500 people left the island during a repatriation of immigrant workers from Kiribatimarker and Tuvalumarker. The repatriation was motivated by wide-scale reductions-in-force in the phosphate mining industry. The official language of Nauru is Nauruan, a distinct Pacific island language, which is spoken by 96% of ethnic Nauruans at home. English is widely spoken and it is the language of government and commerce (Few outside of Nauru speak Nauruan - thus an international language like English is a necessity.)
The top ethnic groups of Nauru are Nauruan (58%), other Pacific Islander (26%), European (8%), and Chinese (8%). All Europeans are of British origin, and most of these have left since independence. The main religion practiced on the island is Christianity (two-thirds Protestant, one-third Roman Catholic). There is also a sizable Bahá'í population (10%) and a Buddhist population (3%). The Constitution provides for freedom of religion. However, the government restricts this right in some circumstances, and it has restricted the practice of religion by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and members of the Jehovah's Witnesses, most of whom are foreign workers employed by the government-owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation.

Literacy on Nauru is 96%, and education is compulsory for children from six to 15 years old, and two more non-compulsory years are offered (years 11 and 12). There is a campus of the University of the South Pacific on Nauru. Before this school was built, eligible students traveled to Australia, New Zealand, etc., for their college educations.

Nauruans are among the most obese people in the world. 90% of adults have a higher BMI than the world average. Nauru has the world's highest level of type 2 diabetes, with more than 40% of the population affected. Other significant dietary-related problems on Nauru include kidney disease and heart disease. Life expectancy on Nauru in 2006 was just 58.0 years for males and 65.0 years for females.


Open air assembly of Nauruans
Nauruans descended from Polynesian and Micronesian seafarers who believed in a female deity, Eijebong, and a spirit land, an island called Buitani. Two of the 12 original tribal groups became extinct in the 20th century. Angam Day, held on 26 October, celebrates the recovery of the Nauruan population after the two World Wars, which together reduced the indigenous population to fewer than 1500. The displacement of the indigenous culture by colonial and contemporary, western influences is significant. Few of the old customs have been preserved, but some forms of traditional music, arts and crafts, and fishing are still practiced.
There are no daily news publications on Nauru, but there are several weekly or fortnightly publications, including the Bulletin, the Central Star News and The Nauru Chronicle. There is a state-owned television station, Nauru Television (NTV), which broadcasts programmes from New Zealand, and there is a state-owned non-commercial radio station, Radio Nauru, which carries programs from Radio Australia and the BBC.

Australian rules football is the most popular sport in Nauru. There is an football league with seven teams. All games are played at Nauru's only stadium, the Linkbelt Ovalmarker. Other sports popular in Nauru include softball, cricket, golf, sailing, tennis, rugby (union and league), and soccer. Nauru participates in the Commonwealth Games and the Summer Olympic Games, where team members have been somewhat successful in weightlifting. Marcus Stephen has been a medallist, and he was elected to Parliament in 2003, and was elected as President of Nauru in 2007.

A traditional activity is catching noddy tern when they return from foraging at sea. At sunset, men stand on the beach ready to throw their lassos at the incoming birds. The Nauruan lasso is supple rope with a weight at the end. When a bird approaches, the lasso is thrown up, hits or drapes itself over the bird, which falls to the ground. The unfortunate noddy is then killed, plucked, cleaned, cooked, and eaten.

See also

Further reading

  • Paradise for Sale: A Parable of Nature by John M. Gowdy and Carl N. McDaniel


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  2. Ellis, A. F. 1935. Ocean Island and Nauru - their story. Angus and Robertson Limited. pp 29–39
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  4. Cain, Timothy M., comp. "Nauru." The Book of Rule. 1st ed. 1 vols. New York: DK Inc., 2004.
  5. Agreement (between Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom) regarding Nauru
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  15. Nauru (High Court Appeals) Act (Australia) 1976. Australian Legal Information Institute URL Accessed 2006-08-07
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  20. The Bulletin publishes for the last time
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  22. ABC News. 12 February 2007. Nauru detention centre costs $2m per month. ABC News Online URL Accessed 2007-02-12
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  33. "Paradise well and truly lost", The Economist, 20 December 2001 [1] URL Accessed 2006-05-02.
  34. Asian Development Bank. 2005. Asian Development Outlook 2005 - Nauru URL Accessed 2006-05-02
  35. FATF. 13 October 2005. Nauru de-listed URL Accessed 2006-05-11
  36. "Nauru fears gap when camps close", Jewel Topsfield, The Age, 11 December 2007
  37. "Nauru 'hit' by detention centre closure", The Age, 7 February 2008
  38. US Department of State. 2003. International Religious Freedom Report 2003 - Nauru URL accessed 2005-05-02.
  39. Waqa, B. 1999. UNESCO Education for all Assessment Country report 1999 Country: Nauru URL Accessed 2006-05-02.
  40. Obesity in the Pacific: too big to ignore. 2002. Secretariat of the Pacific Community ISBN 982-203-925-5
  41. King, H. and Rewers M. 1993. Diabetes in adults is now a Third World problem. World Health Organization Ad Hoc Diabetes Reporting Group. Ethnicity & Disease 3:S67–74.
  42. World Health Organization World health report 2005. Nauru URL
  43. BBC News. Country Profile: Nauru. URL Accessed 2006-05-02.
  44. Banaba/Ocean Island News. URL Accessed 2006-05-11.

External links

General information
  • Nauru from UCB Libraries GovPubs

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