Nauru Country Facts - Tips

Nauru Country Facts Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
October 2007

Background Note: Nauru

Local men watch as an Australian navy
ship passes near the Nauru coast,
September 18, 2001. [© AP Images]

Flag of Nauru is blue with a narrow, horizontal, yellow stripe across the
center and a large white 12-pointed star below the stripe on the hoist side;
the star indicates the country's location in relation to the Equator - the
yellow stripe - and the 12 points symbolize the 12 original tribes of Nauru.


Republic of Nauru

Area: 21 sq. km.
Cities: Capital--no official capital; government offices in Yaren District.
Terrain: Rough beach rises to a fertile but narrow ring around a raised,
prehistoric coral reef plateau, studded with coral pinnacles exposed by
phosphate mining.
Climate: Equatorial; monsoonal; rainy season (November to February);
unreliable rainfall and prone to El Nino-linked droughts.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Nauruan(s).
Population (2006): 9,275.
Age structure: 38.2% below 14; 1.9% over 65.
Annual growth rate (1992-2002): 2.5%.
Ethnic groups: Nauruan 95%, Chinese 3%, other Pacific Islander 1%, European
Religions: Christian (two-thirds Protestant, one-third Roman Catholic).
Languages: Nauruan, English.
Education (2004): Literacy--97%.
Health (2002): Life expectancy (2004 est.) women 56.9 yrs.; men 49.0 yrs.;
Infant mortality rate--10.14/1,000.
Work force (2004 est.): 4,300.
Unemployment (2004 est.): 50%.

Type: Republic.
Constitution: 1968.
Independence: January 31, 1968.
Branches: Executive--president and cabinet. Legislative--unicameral
Parliament. Judicial--Supreme Court, Appellate Court, District Court, and
Family Court.
Administrative subdivisions: 14 districts.
Political party: Naoero Amo (Nauru First) Party.
Central government budget (2006/2007 est.): $17.6 million.
Suffrage: Universal at age 20.

Economy (all figures in U.S. $)
GDP (2005/2006 est.): $25.2 million.
Per capita GDP (2005/2006 est.): $2,739.
Avg. inflation rate (2005 est.): -3-4%.
Industry: Types--phosphate mining.
Trade: Exports (2004 est.)--$640,000; phosphates. Major export
markets--Japan. Imports (2004 est.)--$19.8 million; food, fuel, manufactures.
Major import sources--Australia.
Currency: Australian dollar (A$).

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 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.

Nauruans descended from Polynesian and Micronesian seafarers. Grouped in
clans or tribes, early Nauruans traced their descent on the female side. They
believed in a female deity, Eijebong, and a spirit land, also an island,
called Buitani. Two of the 12 original tribal groups became extinct during
the 20th century. Because of poor diet, alcohol abuse, and a sedentary
lifestyle, Nauru has one of the world's highest levels of diabetes, renal
failure and heart disease, exceeding 40% of the population.

Nauru had little contact with Europeans until whaling ships and other traders
began to visit in the 1830s. The introduction of firearms and alcohol
destroyed the peaceful coexistence of the 12 tribes living on the island. A
10-year internal war began in 1878 and resulted in a reduction of the
population from 1,400 (1843) to around 900 (1888).

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. Following
the outbreak of World War I, Australian forces captured the island in 1914.
After the war, the League of Nations assigned a joint trustee mandate over
the island to Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. The three governments
established the British Phosphate Commissioners, who exercised the rights to
phosphate mining.

During World War II Japan occupied Nauru in August 1942 and deported 1,200
Nauruans to work as laborers in the Caroline Islands, where 463 died. The
survivors returned to Nauru in January 1946.

After the war the island became a UN Trust Territory under Australia, in line
with the previous League of Nations mandate, and it remained one until it
became an independent republic in 1968. A plan by the partner governments to
resettle the Nauruans (due to dwindling phosphate reserves and damage to the
island from extensive mining) on Curtis Island off the north coast of
Queensland, Australia, was abandoned in 1964 when the islanders decided not
to move. In 1967, the Nauruans purchased the assets of the British Phosphate
Commissioners, and in June 1970 control passed to the Nauru Phosphate

In 1989 Nauru filed suit against Australia in the International Court of
Justice in The Hague for damages caused by mining while the island was under
Australian jurisdiction. Australia settled the case out of court in 1993,
agreeing to pay a lump sum settlement of A$107 million (U.S.$85.6 million)
and an annual stipend of the equivalent of A$2.5 million in 1993 dollars
toward environmental rehabilitation.

The country is governed by a unicameral Parliament consisting of 18 members
elected at least triennially from 8 constituencies. Parliament elects the
president, who is both chief of state and head of government, from among its
members. The president appoints a cabinet from among members of Parliament.

For its size, Nauru has a complex legal system. The Supreme Court, headed by
the Chief Justice of Nauru, is paramount on constitutional issues, but other
cases can be appealed to the two-judge Appellate Court. Parliament cannot
overturn court decisions, but Appellate Court rulings can be appealed to
Australia's High Court; in practice, however, this rarely happens. Lower
courts consist of the District Court and the Family Court, both of which are
headed by a Resident Magistrate, who also is the Registrar of the Supreme
Court. Finally, there also are two quasi-courts--the Public Service Appeal
Board and the Police Service Board--both of which are presided over by the
Chief Justice.

There is a small police force of 109 members under civilian control. There
are no armed forces.

Principal Government Officials
President--Ludwig Scotty
Foreign Minister--David Adeang
Ambassador to the United Nations--Marlene Moses

Nauru does not currently have an embassy in the United States but does have a
UN Mission at 800 2nd Ave, Suite 400D, New York, New York 10017 (tel:
212-937-0074, fax: 212-937-0079).

In recent decades, as turmoil grew over Nauru's uncertain future and economic
failures, no-confidence votes that spurred changes of government became
commonplace. In 1997 Nauru had four different presidents in as many months.
However, with the election of Ludwig Scotty in October 2004 and the naming of
a reform-minded government, the pattern has stopped.

Having once boasted the second highest per capita GDP in the world thanks to
its fabled phosphate mines, Nauru is today destitute. With the seeming
depletion of readily accessible phosphate reserves in 2000, mining on a
large-scale commercial basis ended. The decline of mining saw a dramatic
economic contraction, compounded by past government corruption and disastrous
mismanagement of trust funds that had been expected to provide post-mining
revenue streams for Nauru's citizens. Since 2000, Nauru has relied largely on
payments for fishing rights within its exclusive economic zone, earnings from
hosting two Australian refugee processing camps, and massive injections of
grants and development funding, principally from Australia, New Zealand,
Japan, China and more recently Taiwan. In 2006, following rehabilitation of
its industrial plant and marine loading infrastructure, the government-owned
mining company, the Republic of Nauru Phosphate Company or RONPhos, resumed
mining with the aim of exploiting the remaining harder-to-access phosphate.

Although Nauru had a nominal per capita GDP in excess of $2,700, its economy
is in deep crisis, and the resumption of mining promises only a limited
respite as the country seeks to find a sustainable economic future. The
private sector is very small and employs less than 300. Currently, all public
servants (even government ministers) and employees of state-owned enterprises
receive bi-weekly payments from government of just A$140 (about U.S. $118) in
lieu of their established salaries. Nauru imports well over 90 percent of its
foodstuffs and other basic goods, but sea and air transport has become
problematic. In December 2005, the national airline's remaining airplane was
repossessed for non-payment, leaving Nauru dependent on chartered flights. In
September 2006, with financing help from Taiwan, a replacement aircraft
re-established scheduled commercial flights to Nauru and around the region
under the new name of Our Airline. The provision of electricity and water,
both dependent on expensive imported fuel, is limited and sporadic. With the
help of the Pacific Islands Forum and numerous development partner nations,
Nauru has embarked on a major, multi-year strategic national development
program to achieve a sustainable economic framework for the country.

Following independence in 1968, Nauru joined the Commonwealth as a Special
Member. Special Members take part in all Commonwealth activities except heads
of government meetings. They are not assessed but make voluntary
contributions toward the running of the Secretariat. They are eligible for
all forms of technical assistance.

Nauru was admitted to the United Nations in 1999. It is a member of the
Pacific Islands Forum, the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme,
the South Pacific Commission, and the South Pacific Applied Geoscience

In 2001 at Australia's request, Nauru became host to approximately 1,200
asylum seekers, mostly Afghan, who were intercepted while attempting to enter
Australia illegally. By mid-2006, only a single Iraqi refugee remained on the
island, having been assessed by Australia as a security risk and thus
ineligible to enter Australia. In September 2006, Australia effectively
re-opened the center by transferring seven Burmese asylum seekers there for
assessment. In exchange for housing the refugees while their asylum
applications were adjudicated, Australia has provided Nauru with extensive
grants and aid. In March 2007, Australia transferred 82 Sri Lankan refugees
to the processing center in Nauru, which had been significantly upgraded in
the preceding months.

During 2002 Nauru severed diplomatic recognition with Taiwan and signed an
agreement to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of
China. This move followed China's promise to provide more than U.S. $130
million in aid. However, in May 2005, Nauru re-established diplomatic ties
with Taiwan, ending its relationship with China. Taiwan remains one of only
two countries, the other being Australia, with a diplomatic mission on Nauru.
In March 2007, Nauru established an embassy in Taipei.

Relations between the United States and Nauru are cordial. The U.S. has no
consular or diplomatic offices in Nauru. Officers of the American Embassy in
Suva, Fiji, are concurrently accredited to Nauru and make periodic visits.

Trade between the United States and Nauru is limited by the latter's small
size and economic problems. The value of two-way trade in 2005 was $1.6

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Larry M. Dinger
Deputy Chief of Mission--Ted A. Mann
Political/Economic/Commercial Affairs--Brian J. Siler
Consul--Debra J. Towry
Management Officer--Ila S. Jurisson
Regional Environmental Officer--Joseph P. Murphy
Regional Security Officer--Jim T. Suor

The U.S. Embassy at Suva, Fiji, also accredited to Nauru, is located at 31
Loftus Street, Suva (tel: 679-331-4466; fax 679-330-2267). The mailing
address is U.S. Embassy, P.O. Box 218, Suva, Fiji.

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans
traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public
Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency
regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about
terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that
pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad
should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet
web site at, where the current Worldwide Caution,
Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs
Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, are also available at For
additional information on international travel, see

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizenstraveling or residing
abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or
at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your
presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an
emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained
by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular
toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of
State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport
information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service
representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00
a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP
(877-394-8747) and a web site at give the
most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements,
and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A
booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS
publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://, the Department of State web site provides timely, global
access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background
Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of
Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies
working abroad through its website provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market
information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free
export counseling, help with the export process, and more.
STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides
authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from
the Federal government. The site includes current and historical
trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities,
and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank. ***********************************************************
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