Nauru Independence Day

January 31

Over 40 years ago the small island of Nauru was granted its independence from Australia.

According to People and the Earth: Basic Issues in the Sustainability of Resources and the Environment, Nauru is the only nation in the world whose economy is based on bird droppings.

“Nauru survives by  the mining of the natural fertilizers that were produced over many millennia by the interaction of bird droppings (guana) with marine sediments exposed at the surface. Essentially depopulated during Japanese occupation in World War II, about 8,000 Nauruans now live on 1,100 of the 5,236 acres that are not mined to produce fertilizer for markets in Japan, New Zealand, and Australia.”

“When the resource is gone and mining ceases, currently estimated to occur in the year 2000, there will be no exportable product for Nauru except stamps and weight lifters. Even with reclamation, Nauru is unlikely to become a major tourist stop since there will be little of the island left that has not been stripped of every pound of exportable phosphate rock.”

Nauru from above

Aware of their finite resources, Nauru’s leaders used profits to diversify their assets, including the 52-story Nauru House, Melbourne, Australia’s tallest building when it was built.

The history of Naura goes back 3,000 years, when the peoples of Polynesia and Micronesia settled the island. The 12 “tribes” of Naura remained cut off from outside society other until the end of the 18th century. In the 1830s contact with the Western shipping and traders increased, allowing islanders to trade resources for popular imports: alcohol and firearms. Both, unfortunately, exacerbated the bloodshed of the 10-year Nauru Civil War during the 1880s. The population fell from 1,400 to 900.

After Germany annexed the Island at the end of the 19th century, they discovered and began mining phosphate.

Australia captured the island in World War I and it was governed  by the UK, New Zealand, and Australia.

During World War II the Japanese captured the island, turning it into one big airstrip, while deporting 1,200 inhabitants for hard labor for the war effort. Australia retook the island in 1945.

On January 31, 1968 Nauru was granted independence.

True to predictions, the export that had sustained the island since 1907 was depleted. The nation with one of the world’s highest per capita GDPs at the time of its independence became one of the world’s poorest. Its fertile land, now destroyed by a century of mining, is uninhabitable and unable to be restored.
Naura House in Melbourne was sold for $140 million to clear the nation’s growing debts. The island encouraged offshore banking as a tax shelter, and soon became a beacon of hope for money launderers everywhere.

Nauru cracked down on money laundering due to international pressure. Today Naura exports less than $600,000 in phosphate–its only export–and imports $19 million.

And the island, once cut off from the world and self-sufficient for thousands of years, is now completely dependent on Australian aid.

9 Replies to “Nauru Independence Day”

  1. Nauru is a parable of what we are doing with the Earth. I tell the story of Nauru as a warning example to my students here in Finland. If we were able to learn the lesson from Nauru´s disaster, cut remarkably our consumption and stop striving after economic growth, mankind could avoid the fate of Nauru. But is there a possibility that we could be that clever?

  2. It is, it really is. Nauru, Easter Island…these are the writing on the wall of what happens when no safeguards or procedures are set in place to ensure sustainability of finite resources. Glad to hear your students are learning from Nauru. They say “No man is an Island.” But Earth is an island.

  3. NAURU IS THE BEST but thats why the students of NAURU are striving even harder on EDUCATION and will be allot more smarter and now you will be able to look at it as an example

  4. I have been studying this country. Over 2/3 of the phosphate and accompanying profits were mined out before independence. Nauru filed a lawsuit against Australia in the 1970’s and the nations agreed upon a $50 million dollar settlement. Based upon the $860 million in post dependence revenues, one could easily surmise that the government was and remains inept. Anywhere between 7 and 20 billion AUS were pilfered from the island. My solution is a major lawsuit against the the old Consortium of Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. The last settlement could be voided as it only applied to post WWII regime. Moreover, it could be argued that a regional bully forced a weaker power into submission and that the trial was unfair. At any rate, a $3.2-$3.8USD lawsuit with $60 million in aid until 2025 would be my preference.

  5. You Nauruans need a few billion to rehabilitate Topside, build a harbor, furbish or replace the old desalination and power plants, turn Buada lagoon into a National Park, establish a shipbreaking industry, construct a fishing fleet and food processing facilities, facility to convert bones from fish fillet process into calcium supplements and concrete reinforcements, and offshore recycling industry, conduct algal research, build and a national aquarium and accompanying zoo to display the endemic species of Nauru and provide incentives for Nauruan kids to want educations, reclaim and reinforce land, expand the Kaiser College campus, move the capital to the higher elevations of Topside, create a machine parts industry and supply the other Oceanean island countries, and consider building a large radio tower to secure more TV and radio frequencies(channels besides Australian ones; mobile phone effectiveness at least throughout Exclusive Economic Zone).

    Please, Nauru, from the eyes of a potential lawsuit backer, do it.

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