by Oliver Smith, The Telegraph, January 31, 2018
It’s exactly 50 years since Nauru gained independence. Settled by Micronesians and Polynesians at least 3,000 years ago, the remote Pacific island nation was annexed by Germany in 1888, ruled by the UK, Australia and New Zealand under a League of Nations mandate after the First World War, captured by the Japanese in 1942, then governed (again by the UK, Australia and New Zealand) under a United Nations agreement until 1966. Full independence came two years later.
To celebrate the anniversary, here are a few fascinating facts about this little-known land.
1. The Queen has been there – but not many others have
As a member of the Commonwealth, Naura was a logical stop on the Queen’s 1982 tour of the South Pacific. Which puts HRH in a rather exclusive club. Only around 200 tourists make it to Nauru each year, which means perhaps 15,000 living souls - or 0.0002% of the global population - have been there.
There are two hotels: Menen and OD-N-Aiwo.
2. It’s the world’s smallest island nation
Measuring just eight square miles, Nauru is larger than just two other countries: the Vatican City and Monaco. There really isn’t room for much. Nauru has no protected areas, no World Heritage Sites, no rivers, and just 30km of roads.
3. But is the fattest country on Earth
According to the CIA's World Factbook, 71.1 per cent of its 10,000 residents are obese. Only American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the United States, can top it, making Nauru the most overweight sovereign state on the planet.
A slew of other South Pacific nations follow, including Tonga, Samoa, Palau and Kiribati. In fact, Kuwait is the only country outside the region to feature in the top 10. There is a clear obesity problem in the South Pacific, with the weight of adults increasing at four times the global average. Some have claimed the islanders are genetically predisposed to putting on weight, while a 2014 report suggested that colonial settlers, who taught them Western ways of eating - frying fish, for example, rather than eating it raw - are to blame.
4. With its smallest GDP
The GDP of Nauru is a paltry $102m (£72m). Which wouldn’t even buy Manchester City two new defenders.
5. But it does have a railway
A 3.9km stretch of narrow gauge railway was built in 1907 for the transport of mined phosphate, the lynchpin of the island’s economy for decades.
6. It was once the world’s richest country
So rich were Nauru’s phosphate reserves that for a brief period in the Sixties it had the highest per capita GDP in the world. Alas, those reserves have now been largely exhausted.
7. It was a pleasant place
The first Westerner to visit Nauru was the British whaler John Fearn, who dropped anchor there in 1798. He was clearly impressed, calling it “Pleasant Island”. The island is ringed by coral reef, which prevents it from having a port but makes it a fair bet for diving and snorkelling (the impact of phosphate mining, however, has wiped out much of the marine life).
8. But it suffered in recent years – and has a very dark side
As Jonathan Liew, writing for The Telegraph, explained in 2016: "By the turn of the century, Nauru was virtually bankrupt. The entire centre of the island had been ravaged by strip mining and was virtually unusable. Unemployment was at 90 per cent. Corruption and money-laundering festered. Climate change was wrecking its fishing industry. And so when the Australian government offered it a sackful of cash in 2001 to host an offshore asylum processing centre [where atrocities are allegedly rife], it had no choice but to accept. So until 2008, and again since 2012, Nauru has perhaps become best known as an auxiliary piece in Australia’s toxic immigration debate."
In 2015 it banned Facebook on the pretence of protecting residents from pornography, but really - many claimed - to stifle political dissent. The ban was lifted this week.
And it took until 2016 for Nauru to ditch capital punishment. A further 58 countries still have it.
9. Most people on the island speak English
Given its close ties with Australia, New Zealand and the UK, it will come as no surprise to learn that Nauru is one of 45 countries where at least half of the population speak English (according to David Crystal's book English as a Global Language). However, the official language is Nauruan, a distinct Pacific island language that is spoken in most homes.
10. There’s no army
Nauru is one of 16 countries without an army. Australia is also responsible for keeping Nauru safe and sound, although the island does have a police force.
11. They love Aussie rules
It’s the national sport, along with weightlifting (its 10 Commonwealth Games golds put it ahead of Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong), while Rugby Sevens is growing in popularity.