With populations of about
10,000, Nauru and Tuvalu are the smallest Commonwealth member countries.
They are also two of the world’s smallest democracies.
Nauru was admitted as the 187th member state of the United Nations in
Joined Commonwealth: 1968
Population: 10,000 (2013)
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT plus 12hr
Currency: Australian dollar
Area: 21.3 sq km
Population density (per sq. km): 476
Nauru is a small oval-shaped island in the western Pacific Ocean.
Yaren (pop. 4,800 in 2010), Aiwo, Denigomodu, Uaboe, Anabar, Ijuw and
Meneng. Nauru has no capital; government offices are in Yaren district.
A sealed road 19 km long circles the island. Other roads run inland to
Buada District and the phosphate areas. A 5 km railway serves the
phosphate workings and carries the phosphate to the dryers preparatory
to loading on ships.
The airport is in the south-west of the island. The national airline,
Our Airline, offers services to Guam, Fiji, and Brisbane and Melbourne
Nauru is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States,
Pacific Community, Pacific Islands Forum and United Nations.
Phosphate mining in the central plateau has left a barren terrain of
jagged coral pinnacles, up to 15 metres high. A century of mining has
stripped four-fifths of the land area. The island is surrounded by a
coral reef, exposed at low tide and dotted with pinnacles. The island
has a fertile coastal strip 150–300 metres wide. Coral cliffs surround
the central plateau. The highest point of the plateau is 65 metres above
The climate is tropical, with sea breezes. North-east trade winds blow
from March to October. Day temperatures range from 24 to 34°C; average
humidity is 80 per cent. Rainfall is erratic and often heavy; average
annual rainfall is 2,060 mm. The monsoon season is November to February.
With the destruction of the forested areas on the plateau land to enable
phosphate mining, climate changes have been noted with extensive dry
periods. If global warming causes sea level to rise, the habitable
low-lying land areas will be at risk from tidal surges and flooding.
The most significant environmental issues are devastation of some 90 per
cent of the island by intensive phosphate mining during most of the 20th
century, and dependence on an ageing desalination plant and collection
of limited rainwater for water supply.
The only presently fertile areas are the narrow coastal belt, where
there are coconut palms, pandanus trees and indigenous hardwoods such as
the tomano, and the land surrounding Buada lagoon, where bananas,
pineapples and some vegetables are grown. Some secondary vegetation
grows over the coral pinnacles.
Many indigenous birds
have disappeared or become rare, owing to destruction of their habitat,
notably the noddy, or black tern. Frigate birds have traditionally been
caught and tamed.
By the time of the first recorded European sighting of Nauru (by Captain
John Fearn in 1798), the Nauruans were a distinct people with their own
language and culture. They had little contact with Europeans until
whaling ships, traders and beachcombers began to visit regularly in the
The introduction of firearms and alcohol destroyed the social balance of
the 12 clans living on the island and led to a ten-year internal war,
which reduced the population to around 900 by 1888: in 1843 there had
been 1,400 people on Nauru. Peace was only restored when Germany took
action to remove firearms from the island.
The island was allocated to Germany under the 1886 Anglo- German
Convention. Phosphate was discovered a decade later and the Pacific
Phosphate Company started to exploit the reserves in 1906, by agreement
with Germany. The island was captured by Australian forces in 1914 and
administered by Britain. In 1920 the League of Nations gave Britain,
Australia and New Zealand a Trustee Mandate over the territory. In
reality the island was administered by Australia. The three governments
bought out the Pacific Phosphate Company and established the British
Phosphate Commissioners, who took over the rights to phosphate mining.
Nauru was damaged by German naval gunfire and later by Allied bombing in
World War II. During Japanese occupation (1942–45), 1,200 Nauruans were
deported to work as labourers to Truk (now Chuuk), Micronesia, where 463
died as a result of starvation or bombing. The survivors were returned
to Nauru in January 1946.
After the war, the island became a UN Trust Territory, administered by
Australia in a similar partnership to the previous League of Nations
mandate, and it remained a trust territory until independence in 1968.
Anticipating the exhaustion of the phosphate reserves, a plan by the
partner governments to resettle the Nauruans on Curtis Island, off the
north coast of Queensland, Australia, was put forward in 1964. However,
the islanders decided against resettlement. Legislative and executive
councils were established in 1966, giving the islanders a considerable
measure of self-government.
In 1967, the Nauruans contracted to purchase the assets of the British
Phosphate Commissioners and in June 1970 control passed to the Nauru
Nauru became independent as a republic in 1968. Following a
constitutional convention in 1967–68, a new constitution protecting
fundamental freedoms and establishing a parliamentary democracy was
adopted. Sir Hammer DeRoburt became President and went on to dominate
parliament during the next 20 years, leading the government for most of
the period. In the absence of a formal party system, there have been
many periods when governments have been sustained by a single vote.
In August 1989 DeRoburt was ousted in a vote of no confidence. Kenas
Aroi succeeded him but was himself succeeded by Bernard Dowiyogo after
he suffered a severe stroke in November 1989. Dowiyogo went on to win
the next presidential election, but in the November 1995 election was
narrowly defeated by Lagumot Harris (nine votes to eight). In November
1996, there was an early general election which, due to a number of
votes of no confidence, was followed by three changes of President in as
Kinza Clodumar was elected President in a further general election in
February 1997. He was defeated in a no-confidence vote in June 1998 when
Dowiyogo again took over the leadership. In April 1999 Dowiyogo was
himself defeated in a vote of no confidence and René Harris was chosen
by parliament to succeed him. Following the general election in April
2000, the 18 newly elected members re-elected Harris as President. When
he resigned a week later, Dowiyogo was chosen for the sixth time. In
March 2001, when Dowiyogo was in Australia undergoing medical treatment,
he was narrowly defeated in a no-confidence vote; Harris was then chosen
to succeed him. Having superseded René Harris in January 2003 following
a no- confidence vote, Bernard Dowiyogo died in March while on a visit
to the USA, and an election was held in May 2003.
In August 2001, the government agreed with the Australian Government –
for an initial A$30 million – to accommodate some 1,000 mainly Afghan
boat people while their eligibility for asylum in Australia was
assessed. In October 2005 the Australian Government decided to bring 25
of the remaining 27 asylum- seekers to Australia. Only one asylum seeker
remained on the island in mid-2006, but seven Burmese asylum seekers
were transferred to Nauru for assessment in September 2006 and 82 Sri
Lankan refugees in March 2007. Then in late 2007 the new Australian
Labor government indicated the camp would be closed.
On 27 February 2010, a popular referendum rejected a package of proposed
changes to Nauru’s constitution, following a constitutional reform
process which had been under way for several years. Among other things,
the changes had been intended to stabilise government and establish a
popularly- elected presidency.
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