Nauru is a 21-square-kilometer (8-square-mile) oval-shaped island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, 42 kilometers (26 miles) south of the Equator. The island is bordered by a coral reef that is visible at low tide and is studded with pinnacles. The existence of the reef has precluded the development of a harbor, but passages in the reef provide access to the island for small boats. Inland from the shore is a rich coastal strip 150 to 300 metres (490 to 980 feet) wide.
Nauru’s central plateau is surrounded by coral cliffs. The plateau’s highest point, known as the Command Ridge, is 71 meters (233 feet) above sea level.
Nauru’s only productive regions are along its short coastal strip, where coconut palms thrive. Bananas, pineapples, vegetables, pandanus trees, and indigenous hardwoods such as the tomano tree grow on the area around Buada Lagoon.
Nauru, together with Banaba (Ocean Island) in Kiribati and Makatea in French Polynesia, was one of three major phosphate rock islands in the Pacific Ocean. Nauru’s phosphate deposits are now nearly completely exhausted. Phosphate mining on the middle plateau has resulted in a desolate landscape of jagged limestone pinnacles up to 15 metres (49 feet) high. Mining has destroyed and ruined about 80% of Nauru’s land area, as well as the surrounding Exclusive Economic Zone; silt and phosphate runoff is believed to have killed 40% of marine life.
On Nauru, there are little natural fresh water resources. Rainwater is collected in rooftop storage tanks. The islanders rely on on three desalination facilities operated by Nauru’s Utilities Agency.
Because of its closeness to the equator and the water, Nauru’s climate is hot and humid all year. Between November and February, Nauru gets affected by monsoon rains, although cyclones are rare. Annual rainfall varies greatly and is affected by the El Nio-Southern Oscillation, with many severe droughts documented. On Nauru, the temperature varies between 26 and 35 °C (79 and 95 °F) during the day and 22 to 34 °C (72 and 93 °F) at night.
As of July 2011, the population of Nauru was 9,378 people. The island’s population was once higher, but 1,500 people departed in 2006 as part of a repatriation of immigrant workers from Kiribati and Tuvalu. The repatriation was prompted by widespread layoffs in the phosphate mining sector. It is Oceania’s least populous nation.
Nauru has a population of 58 percent Nauruans, 26 percent other Pacific Islanders, 8 percent Europeans, and 8 percent Chinese. Nauruans are the descendants of Polynesian and Micronesian sailors. Two of the original 12 tribal tribes became extinct in the twentieth century.
Christianity is the most widely practiced religion on the island (two-thirds Protestant, one-third Roman Catholic). The freedom of religion is guaranteed under the Constitution. The government has limited the religious activities of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the majority of whom are foreign laborers employed by the state-owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Tarawa and Nauru, with its see at Tarawa, Kiribati, pastorally serves the Catholics.
The original aboriginal people worshiped a female goddess named Eijebong and a spirit realm called Buitani.
There is also a sizable Bahá’ community (10% ) – the highest percentage of any nation in the world – as well as Buddhist (9%) and Muslim (2.2%) communities.
The Nauruan economy peaked in the early 1980s, when it was nearly completely reliant on phosphate resources derived from seabird droppings. There are few alternative resources, and the majority of needs must be imported. RONPhos, previously known as the Nauru Phosphate Corporation, continues to undertake small-scale mining. The government invests a portion of RONPhos’ profits in the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust. The Trust handles long-term assets that were created to assist people when the phosphate deposits were depleted.
Mismanagement resulted in significant reductions in the Trust’s fixed and current assets, which may never completely recover. Among the unsuccessful ventures was the funding of Leonardo the Musical in 1993. To pay debts, the Mercure Hotel in Sydney and Nauru House in Melbourne were sold in 2004, and Air Nauru’s only Boeing 737 was seized in December 2005. Normal flight service resumed in June 2006, when the aircraft was replaced by a Boeing 737–300 airliner. The company sold its Melbourne property asset, the empty Savoy Tavern site, for $7.5 million in 2005.
The Trust’s worth is believed to have decreased from A$1.3 billion in 1991 to $138 million in 2002. Nauru presently lacks the funds to carry out many fundamental government tasks; for example, the National Bank of Nauru is bankrupt. In 2005, the CIA World Factbook projected a GDP per capita of $5,000. According to the Asian Development Bank’s 2007 economic assessment for Nauru, GDP per capita ranges between $2,400 to $2,715. According to the United Nations (2013), the GDP per capita is $15,211, and it ranks 51 on the list of countries with the highest GDP per capita.
Personal taxes are not levied in Nauru. The unemployment rate is believed to be 90%, while the government employs 95% of those who have jobs. The Asian Development Bank observes that, despite the administration’s strong popular mandate to undertake economic reforms, the medium-term prognosis is for continuing reliance on foreign aid in the lack of an alternative to phosphate mining. Tourism does not contribute much to the economy.
Nauru became a tax haven in the 1990s and began issuing passports to foreign citizens for a price. In its battle against money laundering, the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) designated Nauru as one of 15 “non-cooperative” nations. During the 1990s, a regulated bank in Nauru could be established for as little as $25,000 with no additional criteria. Under FATF pressure, Nauru enacted anti-avoidance laws in 2003, prompting foreign hot money to flee the nation. FATF removed the non-cooperative status in October 2005, citing positive outcomes from the law and its implementation.
From 2001 until 2007, the Nauru prison center was a major source of revenue for the nation. The Nauruan authorities expressed their dismay at Australia’s decision to close the island. Dr Kieren Keke, the Foreign Affairs Minister at the time, said in February 2008 that the closure would result in 100 Nauruans losing their employment and would impact 10% of the island’s population directly or indirectly: “We have a large number of families who would suddenly lose their income. We are looking at methods to offer some welfare help, but our ability is extremely restricted. We literally have a huge unemployment problem on our hands.” In August 2012, the detention center reopened.