Known as the world’s least-visited island, Nauru is a tiny island located in the southwestern part of the Pacific Ocean. Surrounded by miles of open ocean, the former “Pleasant Island” has a small GDP and a population of relatively large people.
1. Nauru is the tiniest island country in the world.
With a land coverage of only 21 square kilometers, Nauru is the smallest of all the island nations in the world, a fun fact about Nauru. Apart from this title, Nauru holds other size records as well. Currently, it is the smallest republic, the smallest state in the South Pacific, and the smallest nation outside Europe. When it comes to relative size, it is the third smallest country in the world after Vatican City and Monaco.
2. It has been inhabited for more than 3,000 years.
Its first residents were Micronesians and Polynesians – the settlers being 12 original tribes that represent the star in the nation’s flag. Indigenous life gradually changed with the arrival of Captain John Fearn, who gave Nauru its moniker “Pleasant Island.” It eventually became a port for whalers and traders – and a new home for some deserters who disliked life on the sea.
3. The country suffered from a decade-long civil war.
From 1878-1888, natives battled one another in the aptly-named Nauruan Civil War. One faction comprised of King Aweida loyalists, while the other were rooting for an unnamed claimant of the throne.
The war stemmed from a ruckus during a marriage rite, and the need to avenge the death of a certain nobleman. It only ended when Germany threatened to kill its chiefs unless the Nauruans surrender all their weapons. A total of 765 firearms were turned over. This laying down of arms marked the end of the decade-long civil war.
4. Nauru was annexed by Germany.
At the end of the civil war, Nauru was annexed by Germany – in agreement with Great Britain. It became part of the Protectorate of Marshall Islands, now a state located near the International Date Line.
Despite its occupation, Germany respected the country’s royal structure, an interesting fact about Nauru. Tribal kings, such as King Auweyida, were instated as the nation’s rulers. The annexation saw the arrival of Christian Missionaries as well. Germany occupied the country they called “Nawodo” or “Onawero” for three decades before it was captured by the Australian troops in 1914.
5. It was twice administered by the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.
The first administration came in 1919 by way of the Nauru Island Agreement. Such lasted until the Japanese captured the island in 1942. Following the Japanese surrender of the island, the three nations once again became Nauru’s trustees – this time under the guidance of the United Nations.
6. Nauru became an independent country in 1968.
By 1964, Nauru was extensively mined that the land eventually became uninhabitable. 80% of the land was stripped to the bare minimum. The once lush central plateau is now just a jungle of tall limestone pinnacles. Even the marine wildlife was not spared – silt and phosphate runoff killed at least 40% of the coastal fauna.
Rather than rehabilitate the island, the Australians proposed to relocate the natives to Curtis Island – and award them with citizenship as a reward. The Nauruans resisted this and insisted to govern their country and their bountiful mines. The country was self-governing by 1966 while independence was granted to the people two years later. President Hammer DeRoburt was the first president of the republic as he manned the helm for more than two decades.
7. It used to be one of the richest countries in the world.
In the 1960s, Nauru had the highest GDP in the world, many thanks to its bountiful phosphate reserves, an interesting Nauru fact. The mines were first discovered in 1900 and were not exploited until 6 years later. Mining continued for several decades until 80% of the country became a barren wasteland.
With the loss of the country’s top source of revenue, the once-rich Nauru has become one of the poorest nations in the world. It has the second-lowest GDP in the world at $115 million – only taking over Tuvalu whose GDP is $43 million.
8. Much of Nauru’s finances come from international aid.
As a poor country, Nauru depends on financial aid – the majority of which comes from Australia. This is said to be in exchange for housing Australia’s asylum seekers.
Apart from Australia, Nauru has also received $130 million from the People’s Republic of China for its non-recognition of Taiwan (which is stipulated under the One China Policy.) The country then severed its links with China in 2005. It is now back in the graces of Taiwan.
Nauru also received $50 million in aid from Russia. According to rumors, this is due to Nauru’s recognition of Abhakazia, a sovereign state that broke away from Georgia.
9. Nauru has no armed forces.
Whereas other countries invest highly in their defenders, Nauru has none. They depend on Australia for defense, should they need it. Although this is the case, the country has an armed police force to ensure the safety of its citizens.
10. More than 70% of its residents are obese.
Despite the country’s poverty status, most of its citizens are obese. American Samoans are fatter, but given that it is a US Territory, Nauru remains to be the fattest country in the world, an interesting fact about Nauru.
Experts have several explanations regarding the obesity in South Pacific states. Some claim that Micronesians and Polynesians are genetically predisposed, citing the high obesity rates in the neighboring countries of Kiribati, Palau, Samoa, and Tonga. Another theory put forth is the influence of Western settlers who taught the Nauruans to fry food instead of other healthier alternatives.
11. Nauru houses some of Australia’s asylum seekers.
Australia had a “Pacific Solution” policy wherein asylum seekers were barred from entry to the Australian mainland. Instead, they were transferred to offshore institutions, one of which is the Nauru Regional Processing Center. Despite reports of human rights violations in the centers, the poor island of Nauru maintains it in exchange for financial assistance from the Australian government.
The processing center operated from 2001 to 2008 and re-opened again in 2012 due to the influx of asylum seekers. Many were resettled in the United States. However, as of August 2019, reports state that there are still 288 refugees left in Nauru.
The once-rich country of Nauru is mostly barren due to the relentless mining activities in the 1960s. This should as a reminder for other nations to take care of the environment before it’s too late.
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