island country, Pacific Ocean
Island country, southeastern Micronesia, western South Pacific Ocean.
Area: 8 sq mi (21 sq km). Population (2005): 10,200. Capital: Yaren
(district). About two-thirds of the population are indigenous Nauruans.
Languages: Nauruan, English. Religion: Christianity (mostly Protestant;
also Roman Catholic). Currency: Australian dollar. Nauru is a coral
island with a central plateau 100Ė200 ft (30Ė60 m) high. A thin strip of
fertile land encircling the island is the major zone of human
settlement. It lacks harbours; ships must anchor to buoys beyond a reef.
Nauru once had the worldís largest concentration of phosphate, and its
economy was based on phosphate mining and processing; however, the
deposits have been depleted, and the economy has been converting to
fishing and other ventures. Nauru is a republic with one legislative
house; its head of state and government is the president. It was
inhabited by Pacific Islanders when the first British explorers arrived
in 1798 and named it Pleasant Island because of their friendly welcome.
Annexed by Germany in 1888, it was occupied by Australia at the start of
World War I, and in 1919 it was placed under a joint mandate of Britain,
Australia, and New Zealand. During World War II it was occupied by the
Japanese. Made a UN trust territory under Australian administration in
1947, Nauru gained complete independence in 1968 and became a full
member of the Commonwealth and the UN in 1999.
Official name Naoero (Nauruan1) (Republic of Nauru)
Form of government republic with one legislative house (Parliament )
Head of state and government President
Official language none1
Official religion none
Monetary unit Australian dollar ($A)
Population estimate (2008) 10,200
Total area (sq mi) 8.2
Total area (sq km) 21.2
1Nauruan is the national language; English is the language of business
2No official capital; government offices are located in Yaren
island country, Pacific Ocean
island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It consists of a
raised coral island located in southeastern Micronesia, 25 miles (40 km)
south of the Equator. The island is about 800 miles (1,300 km) northeast
of the Solomon Islands; its closest neighbour is the island of Banaba,
in Kiribati, some 200 miles (300 km) to the east. Nauru has no official
capital, but government offices are located in the district of Yaren.
Most of Nauru rises somewhat abruptly from the ocean, and there
are no harbours or protected anchorages. A fairly fertile but relatively
narrow belt encircles the island and surrounds the shallow inland Buada
Lagoon. Farther inland, coral cliffs rise to a plateau 100 feet (30
metres) above sea level, with the highest point at about 213 feet (65
metres). The plateau is largely composed of rock phosphate, leached from
guano, or bird droppings. The mineral deposit covers more than
two-thirds of the island, and its extraction has left irregular,
pinnacle-shaped outcrops of limestone that give the landscape a
forbidding, otherworldly appearance.
Nauruís climate is tropical, with daytime temperatures in the low 80s
F (about 28į C), tempered by ocean breezes. Rainfall, averaging about 80
inches (2,000 mm) annually, is extremely variable, and prolonged
droughts occur. The only locally available water is collected from roof
catchment systems, and water is imported as ballast on ships returning
to Nauru for loads of phosphate. There are no rivers or streams.
Soils are generally poor and highly porous, and the irregular
rainfall limits cultivation to the coastal belt and the lagoonís fringe.
Phosphate mining has ravaged the interior of the island, leaving about
four-fifths of it uninhabitable and uncultivable. Subsistence crops,
consisting mainly of coconut palms, pandanus, bananas, pineapple, and
some vegetables, are not adequate to support the population; the land
does yield a great variety of plants and trees, however. Nauru is a
favourite stopover point for migratory birds, and chickens have been
introduced. There was an absence of mammals until rats, mice, cats,
dogs, and pigs were also imported.
Most of the islandís residents are indigenous Nauruans. There are
small numbers of I-Kiribati (Gilbertese), Australians, New Zealanders,
Chinese, and Tuvaluans; many members of the latter two groups were
recruited as workers by the phosphate industry.
Nauruan is the national language. No adequate written grammar of the
language has been compiled, and its relationships to other Micronesian
languages are not well understood. English is widely spoken. Nauru is
considered one of the most Westernized countries in the South Pacific.
Missionization came later to Nauru than to many other Pacific
islands. The first Protestant evangelist arrived in 1899 and was
followed three years later by the first Roman Catholic missionary. Today
more than four-fifths of Nauruans are Christians; more than half the
total population is Protestant (mostly members of the Nauru
Congregational Church), and about one-fourth is Roman Catholic.
The settlement pattern on the island is dispersed. People are
scattered along the coastal zone, and there is one small village, Buada,
inland near the lagoon.
Agriculture (with the exception of coffee and copra plantations
along the coastal and lagoon perimeters), fishing, manufacturing, and
tourism are of minor value to the overall economy. However, Nauru has an
exclusive economic zone extending 200 miles (320 km) offshore. The sale
of commercial fishing licenses began to bring in a steady revenue during
Phosphate has been mined on Nauru since 1907. For decades it was
Nauruís main resource and sole export, dominating the islandís economy,
and its quality was the highest in the world. The phosphate industry and
government services together provided almost all of the islandís
salaried employment. For much of the 20th century the phosphate industry
was owned and operated by a corporation jointly managed by the British,
Australian, and New Zealand governments. The government of independent
Nauru gained control of phosphate operations in 1970, and in the 1980s
Nauru was for a time one of the wealthiest countries in the world in
terms of gross domestic product per capita. Landowners received
royalties from the phosphate earnings, and many Nauruans were unemployed
by choice. By the late 20th century, however, the phosphate deposits
were quickly becoming exhausted, and Nauru experienced a severe drop-off
in earnings, leading to the countryís near bankruptcy by the early years
of the 21st century. Thereafter Nauru struggled to develop other
resources and find alternative sources of income.
Beginning in 2001, Nauru agreed to temporarily house hundreds of
Australia-bound asylum seekers (who at first came mostly from Iraq and
Afghanistan and later from Sri Lanka) while they awaited the processing
of their applications. In exchange, the Australian government provided
millions of dollars in aid to Nauru over the next several years.
Virtually all food, water, and manufactured goods are imported.
Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom together supply more than
three-fourths of Nauruís imports. With the exception of those levied on
alcohol and tobacco, there are no import duties, and there is no income
Nauru has its own banking system; the Bank of Nauru is wholly owned
and operated by the government. The financial sector grew in importance
after the 1980s as the island became known as an offshore banking centre
and tax haven. Beginning in 1999, amid allegations that it was a
money-laundering conduit for organized crime and terrorist
organizations, the financial sector underwent a series of reforms to
increase its transparency. As one consequence of its colonial history,
Nauru is within the Australian monetary system, and Australian currency
is the countryís legal tender.
Transportation on the island is good. A paved road system links all
villages. Surface transportation to other destinations is difficult.
Because there are no wharves or natural harbours, passengers and cargo
are shuttled by barge between oceangoing vessels and a small artificial
anchorage. Most regional and international travel is by air. Nauruís
sole airport is located in Yaren district. In 1970 the country launched
its national airline, control of which was transferred in 1996 to a
Government and society
Nauruís constitution, implemented with independence in 1968, calls
for broadly phrased fundamental rights and freedoms for individuals and
a government that combines parliamentary and presidential systems. The
parliament, whose members are elected by Nauruan citizens age 20 and
older, has a tenure of three years unless dissolved by a vote of no
confidence. It elects the president, who is both head of state and head
of government. The president appoints a cabinet from the parliament. In
1999 Nauru became a full member of both the Commonwealth and the United
The tripartite judicial system comprises a Supreme Court, a District
Court, and a Family Court. The Supreme Court, presided over by a chief
justice, has both original and appellate jurisdiction. At Nauruís
request, final appeals may be taken to the High Court of Australia.
Basic services in education and health are provided free to all
citizens, though services have been reduced as a result of the countryís
changing economic fortunes. There is no government social security
system. Education is compulsory between ages 6 and 16. The government
provides several kindergartens and elementary and secondary schools. The
Roman Catholic mission has its own school system at the same three
levels. Traditionally, students have gone abroad, mainly to Australia,
for higher education.
The origin of the first inhabitants of Nauru and when they
reached the island remain unknown. A long period of relative isolation
is believed to account for the distinctiveness of the indigenous
language. By the time of the arrival of Europeans in the early 18th
century, Nauruan society consisted of 12 matrilineal kinship groups,
each having a chief.
An English sailing vessel sighted the island in 1798, but extensive
contact with Europeans did not begin until the 1830s, when the whaling
industry penetrated eastern Micronesia, and Nauru became a port of call
for vessels in search of food and water supplies. Shortly thereafter a
small number of European beachcombers settled on the island, bringing
with them alcohol, firearms, and foreign diseases. Intraisland warfare
among competing districts escalated, becoming particularly intense in
the 1880s. Encouraged by a few German traders concerned about their own
interests on the island, Germany incorporated Nauru into its Marshall
Islands protectorate in late 1888. The German administration and the
arrival of the missionaries shortly thereafter brought an end to armed
hostilities. In 1906 the Pacific Phosphate Company, a British concern,
negotiated an agreement with the German administration to begin the
mining of Nauruís phosphate deposits, and the operation began the
With the onset of World War I, a small Australian force occupied
Nauru and removed most German nationals. In 1920 Nauru became a mandated
territory within the framework of the League of Nations. Australia,
Britain, and New Zealand were named as the responsible authorities, but
in actual practice the administration remained in Australian hands. The
phosphate industry was taken over by the newly formed British Phosphate
Commission, a joint Australian, British, and New Zealand enterprise.
World War II brought another occupier when Japanese forces arrived in
August 1942. In the following year, 1,200 Nauruans were taken to Truk
(now Chuuk) to serve as forced labourers on Japanese military
installations there. A Japanese airstrip on Nauru became the target of
American bombers, and the island suffered air attacks for the next two
years. In September 1945, Australian troops again took possession of
Nauru. On Jan. 31, 1946, with their numbers depleted by almost 500, 737
Nauruans were returned home.
In November 1947, Nauru became a United Nations trust territory, an
arrangement paralleling the former League of Nations mandate. The same
three metropolitan powers were the responsible authorities, but
Australia continued to provide the actual administration.
A series of developments in the 1950s and particularly in the early
1960s led to self-government and eventually political independence and
ownership of the phosphate industry. In October 1967 an agreement
granting Nauruan independence was concluded. Jan. 31, 1968, the 22nd
anniversary of the return of Nauruans from Truk, was chosen as
Independence Day for the Republic of Nauru.
Political parties are of lesser importance than personalities in
Nauruan politics. Hammer DeRoburt dominated the political scene for the
first two decades of the republic; he served as president for most of
the postindependence period until being voted out of office in 1989.
Thereafter, national politics was marked by a series of weak,
short-lived governments; the presidency tended to be traded among a
small number of politicians.
As the phosphate market faltered and costs increased, national
accounts began to dwindle. It was projected that Nauruís primary
deposits would be exhausted by the early years of the 21st century, and
Nauru began to make preparations for the post-phosphate-mining era. A
major portion of the earnings from phosphate mining was invested abroad.
The future economic well-being of Nauruans depended in part on the
success of the investment program, but it lost much of its value to
risky investments and fraud, leaving the country hovering on the edge of
bankruptcy. The development of new techniques for mining secondary
deposits and the discovery of new primary deposits in 2005 ameliorated
the situation somewhat. Nonetheless, austerity measures were instituted,
including cuts in public services. In early 2003 the country was cut off
from the rest of the world for nearly two months when its
telecommunications network collapsed.
In late 2001 Nauru agreed to accept up to 1,200 asylum seekers,
mostly Afghani or Iraqi, who had been intercepted in the Indian Ocean by
the Australian navy. Australia paid some $10 million (Australian) in
exchange for Nauruís holding the migrants while their asylum
applications were being processed. Detention for periods of up to
several years, along with reportedly poor conditions at the camp, raised
international concern over human rights violations on the part of
Australia. In December 2002 the agreement was extended to cover another
1,500 people for an additional $14 million. Over the following years the
number of refugees slowly dwindled as their applications were processed.
In late 2007 Australia announced plans to close the Nauru detention
centre, and the last refugees left the island in February of the
following year. Australia pledged to assist Nauru in addressing the
economic loss resulting from the centreís closure.
Robert C. Kiste