So the question of the day is: have you ever heard of Nauru, and where in the world is it? Okay, so that is really two questions. The thought never entered my mind until this morning, when I was checking out the medal standings at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India.
It turns out that Nauru, on top of winning the gold medal in weightlifting in the men’s 77kg weight class, is also the holder of a number of other firsts. The smallest island nation in the world, this republic, which is almost exactly the same size as British Columbia’s Mayne Island, once enjoyed the globe’s highest per capita income shortly after independence in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
It is also probably one of the few sovereign nations to be virtually cut off from the rest of the world when Air Nauru’s fleet of one aircraft, a Boeing 737, was impounded in Melbourne’s Tullamarine International Airport. For a period of a few months, access to Nauru was limited to ocean-going ships only. And that wasn’t even as easy as it sounds. It turns out that Nauru, in almost medieval fashion, was surrounded by a coral reef, with only a few breaks that limited passage to small boats only. Yes, this island nation didn’t, and still doesn’t possess a deepwater port. Ouch.
But, the real story of Nauru is one of human mismanagement of resources and the environment on a catastrophic level. True, centuries of bird shit had mixed with indigenous corral outcroppings, resulting in huge phosphate deposits that were systematically raped, scraped and gouged from the inland area of the island. Huge royalty payments coerced residents into purchasing Lamborghinis, despite the cruel irony of limiting the Italian super cars track to a narrow, partially paved 25 kph ring road. In the spirit of gulf oil sheikhdoms, charter jets flew to Singapore and Hawaii for lavish shopping trips. But, by the 1990’s the resource coffers were pretty much depleted, leaving a legacy of bad investment decisions that included the funding of an ill-fated London theatre musical, and a perfect case study for the systematic and utter desertification of an environment.
So, the answer to the question I asked at the beginning of this post is that Nauru lies within Micronesia in the South Pacific Ocean, east of Papua New Guinea. The question that remains is how does this nation continue to exist?
Currently, it has 90% unemployment, with roughly 95% of the employed working for a government that has been suspended since June 2010 due to “constitutional issues.” Add to this political quandary a population that is aiming for the medal podium in obesity statistics, and takes the gold medal for having the highest level of type 2 diabetes amongst its inhabitants, and you have a nation that begs the question: How does this place even survive in its current state?
Well, some unusual make work projects courtesy of the Australian Immigration people, and some well-timed votes in the UN have brought in much needed foreign aid to replace past efforts at providing tax havens, as well as the provision of washing and drying facilities for certain questionable types of foreign cash. But, surely there must be more that a tropical island just off the Equator can bring to the table? Do you find this interesting? So do I, to the point where I would love to see this place, and stay in its one dated 1960’s era hotel. The last question is, now that I know where and what it is, how do I get there?
By the way, Nauru’s medal count at the 2010 Commonwealth Games now stands at 2: 1 gold, and 1 silver.