The Blue Skies of Nauru
The island of Nauru – situated some 300 km due west of its closest neighbours (the islands of Banaba and Maketea), in the solitary waters of the South Pacific – is a mere 21 km2 and home to 13,500 inhabitants.
Having been continually governed by a variety of countries, Nauru gained its independence in 1962, at which time it was once again given control of its economy and the subsequent power of the phosphate export business – the island’s main economic artery.
To have such responsibility was unfamiliar territory for the islanders. The last time that they had control over their country the economy looked very different to the flourishing business that was now placed into their hands. Wealth was freely scattered across the island. Families imported top-of-the-range speedboats, BMW’s and Cadillac’s which, given that Nauru only has 32 km of driveable surface, were somewhat curious luxuries. But this period of prosperity wasn’t without consequence – poor management and excessive excavation of the island’s phosphate stocks also meant the rapid loss of precious resources.
Nauru’s economy came to a sudden halt. Owing to a variety of excessively poor investments – including overseas properties and London musicals – together with years of lavish spending, Nauru found itself stripped of its wealth. At its peak in 1991, Nauru’s economy was worth a staggering AUS$1,300 million (US$900 million). By 2002, this valuation plummeted to AUS$138 million (US$95 million).
Since 2002, in an attempt to maintain economic balance, Nauru had been housing asylum seekers on behalf of Australia in exchange for receiving aid packages. However, in early 2008 with Kevin Rudd elected as the new Australian prime minister, Nauru’s aid program was terminated. The asylum seekers were removed from the island but Nauru’s economic crisis and inhabitants remained.
Walking around the island, it is difficult to imagine how glorious Nauru may have looked in its heyday. No longer do luxurious vehicles cruise the short stretch of road. Houses are decaying and hungry for repair. Rubbish and packs of stray dogs litter the streets and the centre of the island appears crater-like – scarred from years of exploitation of its phosphate.
During the peak of its wealth, Nauru could boast two cinemas, a radio station and several local television broadcast stations – providing the inhabitants with entertainment throughout the sweltering days. Not one of these has survived the economic downturn. With the continued misfortune of Nauru, it’s difficult to imagine how the island can survive for future generations. Yet, despite having a decrepit economy, there is one thing that the Nauruans are wealthy in and that is hope.