Nauru is the world's smallest sovereign state, with a population of about 9,500, slightly less than the approximately 10,500 attributed to Tuvalu, and a land area of 21 sq km (“about 0.1 times the size of Washington, DC“), compared to 26 sq km for Tuvalu. It is well ahead of Tuvalu in GDP [$60,000,000 vs $35,000,000] and in military spending [$60,000,000 vs $15,000,000]. Nauru maintains no defense forces; under an informal agreement, defense is the responsibility of Australia.

The tiny Republic of Nauru, population 10,000, is an island once layered thickly with easily-mined phosphates. It may hold the record for biggest plunge in wealth. After building reserves to around $2 billion, profligacy, mis-management, and seeming exhaustion of phosphate resources resulted in a catastrophic decline, with debt around $1 billion by 2008. The population are among the world's sickest people with diabetes, heart failure and alcoholism rampant.

Formerly known as Pleasant Island, it's easy to see how its location and geological features make living there so pleasant. Nauru, the tiny island country located near the equator, used to be a paradise for its residents. It was surrounded only by the scenery of coconut trees and flocks of sea birds, without being bothered by mosquitos and pests, or the hustle and bustle of the outside world. That all ended at the start of the 20th century when phosphate mining began on the island. For millions of years, sea birds that had taken sanctuary on the island left droppings that formed a thick layer of phosphate rock close to the island's surface. For a 21-square kilometer wasteland in the middle of the central Pacific, Nauru causes a surprising degree of international worry. It once sold passports to anyone and played a role as the Russian mafia's banker-- 450 off-shore banks registered to a single government postbox. Now bankrupt, the island's risk factor is in keeping it clear of wild schemes.

Nauru is a small oval-shaped island in the western Pacific Ocean, located just 42 kilometers (26 mi.) south of the Equator. It is one of three great phosphate rock islands in the Pacific Ocean--the others are Banaba (Ocean Island) in Kiribati and Makatea in French Polynesia. Until recently Nauru's phosphate reserves were thought to be nearly depleted, but there are some indications that the potential for continued productive mining might exist. Phosphate mining in the central plateau has left a barren terrain of jagged, prehistoric coral pinnacles, up to 15 meters (49 ft.) high. A century of mining has stripped and devastated four-fifths of the total land area. Efforts to rehabilitate the mined-out areas have been largely unsuccessful.

The island is surrounded by a coral reef, exposed at low tide and dotted with pinnacles. The reef is bounded seaward by deep water, inside by a narrow sandy beach. A 150-300-meter (492-984 ft.) wide fertile coastal strip lies landward from the coast, ending in forested coral cliffs that rise to the now mined-out central plateau. The highest point of the plateau is 65 meters (213 ft.) above sea level. The island's only fertile areas are within the narrow coastal belt, where there are coconut palms, pandanus trees, and indigenous hardwoods, and the land surrounding the inland Buada lagoon on the central plateau, where bananas, pineapples, and some vegetables are grown. Some secondary vegetation has begun to cover the scarred central plateau and its coral pinnacles.

Join the mailing list