Nauru, A Devastated Island
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The Republic of Nauru is a small speck in the Pacific Ocean halfway between Hawaii and Australia. For more than 2,000 years, traditional Nauruans, isolated from the rest of the world, lived in social and ecological stability. In 1900 the discovery of phosphate, an absolute requirement for modern agriculture, catapulted Nauru into the world market. Nauru, once a beautiful island paradise, is now an ugly representation of environmental degradation and economic dysfunction. Nauru, A Devastated Island is a cautionary tale of the conflict between a free-market economy and the sustainable health—including human health—of the environment.
Nauru became a German colony in the late eighteenth century; was under trusteeship to Australia, New Zealand, and the United States after World War I; was occupied by Japan during World War II; and then returned to the tripartite trusteeship. Over the years, all of those countries mined and exported the phosphate that formed the base of Nauru. In 1968 Nauru became a republic—the world’s smallest independent republic. The government decided to continue the mining and for 40 years sold the nation’s phosphate. In the 1970s and on into the 1980s, the island became one of the richest nations in the world; the Nauruans adopted a modern lifestyle that included wildly wasteful spending and led to an island-wide epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Then at the beginning of the 1980s, the phosphate was gone—and so was the money. Nauru became one of the world’s poorest countries. Its government leaders, with no particular education in politics or economics, determined to “save” the island by hosting hundreds of offshore banks, by renting land to Australia for use as refugee camps, and even by suggesting that natives leave the island.
Luc Folliet : Luc Folliet, a freelance investigative reporter and researcher, uses interviews with native Nauruans, from politicians to refugees, to document the downfall of Nauru. He describes specific ecological disasters, the extent of economic bankruptcy, and the prevalence of chronic illness—all the consequences of a truly free market. Nauru, A Devastated Island is Folliet’s first published book. He is a freelance reporter and researcher.