At just 21 square kilometres, Nauru is the smallest island nation in the world and has a population of just over 10,000. Yet this former British colony, which lies approximately 4000 km from Sydney in the Pacific Ocean, was once so prosperous that it was the envy of the entire world.
The discovery of huge deposits of fossilised bird poo that had accumulated for over 1000 years changed this nation forever. It made for an excellent fertiliser and sparked a huge mining effort, first by foreign companies, then by the islanders themselves in 1968 when they achieved independence from Britain.
By 1980 Nauru had become the wealthiest nation on the planet, per capita. A monumental achievement for such a tiny, remote island.Rolling in riches, the locals abandoned their traditional lifestyles and turned to unhealthy food, alcohol and cigarettes.
It wasn’t long before a health crisis hit, and hard.
Life expectancy plunged to just 50, while rates of diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses skyrocketed along with their waistlines. In 2007, 94.5 per cent of its residents were identified by the World Health Organisation as overweight, and 71.7 per cent obese — the highest rate in the world. It was overtaken in the obesity stakes by Mexico in 2013.
These days, Nauru has the highest prevalence of type-two diabetes in the world, affecting 31 per cent of adults.That was just the start of their problems. The phosphates ran out in the early 1980s, along with the nation’s primary income source.
With so much of the island mined, all that was left was an environmental wasteland riddled with decay. The damage is so severe that 75 per cent of the country is uninhabitable.
While Nauru was formerly known as “Pleasant Island” due to its lavish tropical vegetation, it’s a harsh reality that it no longer lives up to this name. The effects of mining are very distinctive, because the phosphate develops within coral pinnacles, so you have to scoop the phosphate out from within the pinnacles themselves, So those scooped areas descend about three metres. So it produces an extraordinary landscape which is visually quite dramatic and is totally useless for anything else.Locals were devastated at the loss of their once-stunning scenery.
Due to the boom in the mining industry many residents had quit their jobs and went on huge spending sprees including expensive holiday and shopping trips, and importing sports cars – even a Lamborghini.Hardly anyone thought of investing the money. Dollar notes were even used as toilet paper. It was like every day was party day for the resident of Nauru.
In the years that followed, the island went virtually bankrupt. The government, who had made a series of bad investment choices, froze wages and started borrowing heavily from trusts.A lot of money was invested in things which never actually turned out to work, buildings in overseas countries, like Nauru House in Melbourne, hotels in some countries, phosphate factories, curiously, in countries like India and the Philippines, most of which never really survived turned out to be the reasons for the Bankrupcy of Nauru making Nauru a very poor country .
Now, many homes are run down, and those sports cars are rusted wrecks.With little financial options, in 2001 Nauru entered into an agreement with Australia to house a detention centre in return for foreign aid, of which they became reliant. As of 2014 the amount Australia provides is $27.1 million and the only income of the government of Nauru.