News, Notes, and Dispatches From Wherever Coconuts Grow

August 01, 2003

The Sad Fate of Nauru

The Economist ran an article in December 2001 about the sad state of affairs in Nauru, the smallest independent republic in the world. From the article:

IT SITS, a tiny eight-square-mile speck, way out in the vast and lonely reaches of the Pacific, halfway between Hawaii and Australia. In 1798 a passing British captain, the first westerner to see it, dubbed it Pleasant Island. That old name sounds cruelly ironic now. Seen from the air, Nauru resembles an enormous moth-eaten fedora: a ghastly grey mound of rock surrounded by a narrow green brim of vegetation. On the ground, this unlovely impression is confirmed. Strip-mining has turned Nauru into a barren, jagged wasteland. The once-dense tropical vegetation has been cleared. The exposed rock reflects the heat of the equatorial sun and drives away rain.

Unlike many small, remote Pacific islands, Nauru possesses a valuable commodity, phosphate, a sought-after fertiliser ingredient. A high-grade supply was discovered in 1900. For a brief, heady moment in the 1970s, Nauruans were, astonishingly, among the richest people on earth. Now they are poverty-stricken, unhealthy and look set to be clobbered by international trade sanctions. The story of Nauru's descent from prosperity to penury is one of the most cautionary tales of modern development.

Things have not gotten any better since 2001. "Nauru . . . is in a state of flux," says a February 2003 New Zealand Herald article. " It wants to be seen to be co-operating with the international community, and the US in particular, but it does not know who to trust."

Also in February, all telecommunications links were cut off in and out of Nauru, the nation having gone broke after plundering its natural phosphate resources. (A fate that perhaps awaits larger nations... only a matter of time?)

Meanwhile, this week, an "Australian court has blocked an attempt by the US to repossess Nauru's only aircraft, an Air Nauru 737, saying it would contravene promises given by Washington to reward Nauru for cracking down on terrorism and for helping smuggle North Korean defectors to the West." From an article in the 2 August 2003 edition of the Australian Sunday Mail.

I'm reminded of the recent Steely Dan song:

It's high time for a walk on the real side
Let's admit the bastards beat us
I move to dissolve the corporation
In a pool of margaritas
So let's switch off all the lights
Light up all the Luckies
Crankin' up the afterglow
Cause we're goin' out of business
Everything must go

Talk about your major pain and suffering
Now our self-esteem is shattered
Show the world a mighty hidey-ho face
As we go sliding down the ladder

It was sweet up at the top
'Til that ill wind started blowing
Now it's cozy down below
'Cause we're goin' out of business
Everything must go

Posted by brian at August 1, 2003 04:11 PM