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Republic of Nauru


CAPITAL: There is no formal capital. The seat of government is in the district of Yaren

FLAG: The flag has a blue background divided horizontally by a narrow gold band, symbolizing the equator. Below the band on the left side is a white 12-pointed star, representing the island's 12 traditional tribes.

ANTHEM: Nauru Ubwema (Nauru, Our Homeland ).

MONETARY UNIT: The Australian dollar (a$) of 100 cents is the legal currency. a$1 = us$0.76336 (or us$1 = a$1.31) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: Imperial weights and measures are used.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Independence Day, 31 January; Angam Day, 26 October (a celebration of the day on which the population of Nauru reached the pre-World War II level); Christmas Day, 25 December; and Boxing Day, 26 December.

TIME: 11:30 pm = noon GMT.


Situated in the western Pacific, Nauru is one of the world's smallest independent nations, with an area of 21 sq km (8.1 sq mi), extending 5.6 km (3.5 mi) nnessw and 4 km (2.5 mi) esewnw. Comparatively, the area occupied by Nauru is about one-tenth the size of Washington, D.C. It lies between two island groups, the Solomons and the Gilberts, 53 km (33 mi) s of the equator and 3,930 km (2,442 mi) nne of Sydney; its nearest neighbor is Banaba (formerly Ocean Island, now part of Kiribati), situated 305 km (190 mi) to the e. Nauru has a coastline of 30 km (18.6 mi). The Yaren district, which holds the seat of the government, is located on the southern coast of the Nauru.


Nauru, one of the largest phosphate-rock islands in the Pacific, is oval-shaped and fringed by a wide coral reef. It has no natural harbor or anchorage. A relatively fertile belt varying in width from 150300 m (490980 ft) encircles the island. From this belt a coral cliff rises to a central plateau about 60 m (200 ft) above sea level. Buada Lagoon, a permanent, often brackish lake, covers some 300 acres (1.2 km/0.47 sq mi) in the southeastern end of the plateau. Apart from some brackish ponds and an underground lake, the nation's water supply is provided by rainfall.


Nauru has a dry season, marked by easterly trade winds, and a wet season with westerly monsoons extending from November to February. The average annual rainfall is about 200 cm (79 in), but the amount varies greatly from year to year, and long droughts have been a recurrent problem. Temperatures remain steady, between 2433°c (7591°f) the year round, and relative humidity is also constant at about 80%.


The plateau area contains large phosphate deposits that almost completely inhibit any natural growth useful for subsistence or commerce. Large areas of scrub and creeper, with occasional coconut and tamanu trees, grow in this region. On the coastal belt, coconut palms and pandanus (a type of screw pine) thrive. Some hibiscus, frangipani, and other tropical flowers grow, but they do not abound here as on other Pacific islands. Bird life is not plentiful, although noddies, terns, and frigate birds frequent the island. There are no indigenous land animals; however, hogs and poultry were introduced many years ago. Fish life is abundant in the seas encircling Nauru and good catches of tuna and bonito are taken.


Nauru's phosphate mining industry has done significant damage to the land. In 1987, the Nauruan government began to investigate the nation's mining operations with the goal of developing a plan to regenerate the land and replace lost vegetation. Land in the coastal region, however, has not been affected by the development of the country's mining industry. Vegetation in the coastal areas, such as pandanus and coconut palms, is plentiful. Nauru has limited freshwater resources. Its residents collect rainwater in rooftop storage tanks. Periodic droughts pose an additional hazard to the environment. Nauru is also affected by the global warming trend which has caused sea levels to rise, placing low-laying areas at risk from tidal surges and flooding.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 19 animal species, most of which were fish and other marine animals such as albacore tuna, coconut crab, and the tiger shark. The bristle-thighed curlew and Finsch's reed warbler are vulnerable animal species.


The population of Nauru in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 13,000, which placed it at number 191 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 2% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 41% of the population under 15 years of age. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 1.8%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 17,887. The population density was 590 per sq km (1,529 per sq mi).

Most Nauruans live around the coastal fringes, in their traditional districts. About half the population consists of immigrant contract laborers, technicians, and teachers. Most Chinese, as well as immigrants from Kiribati and Tuvalu, are settled in communities near the phosphate works.

The UN reported that 100% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005. The seat of government is in the district of Yaren, which had a population of 13,000 in that year.


Immigration to Nauru is strictly controlled by the government. Nauruans are free to travel abroad. In 2000 and 2005, the net migration rate was zero migrants per 1,000 population. In 2001 some 1,500 asylum seekers (most from Afghanistan) were processed by Naura at the request of Australia, after that country had turned the asylum seekers away. After spending three years in Nauru, most were transferred to New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, and Norway by 2004. There are more than 50 asylum seekers in Nauru, among them Iraqis, Afghans, Bangladeshis, Iranians, and one Pakistani. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory. There were a total of 5,000 migrants living in Nauru in 2000, which accounted for more than 30% of the total population.


The Nauruan people are the only indigenous ethnic group on the island. They are of mixed Micronesian, Melanesian, and Polynesian origin and resemble the last strain most closely. Nauruans are traditionally divided into 12 clans or tribes in which descent is matrilineal, although kinship and inheritance rules have some patrilineal features. The 12 clans are Eamwit, Eamwidumwit, Deboe, Eoaru, Emea, Eano, Emangum, Ranibok, Eamwidara, Iruwa, Irutsi (extinct), and Iwi (extinct). Admixtures of Caucasian and Negroid lineage in the 19th century and frequent intermarriage with other Pacific islanders have changed the present-day features of Nauruans from those of their forebears.

The Caucasians on the island are almost all Australians and New Zealanders employed in administrative or teaching posts or in the phosphate industry. The Chinese and immigrants from Kiribati and Tuvalu originally came to the island as laborers in the phosphate industry, some being accompanied by their families. Filipino contract workers are also present but are not permitted to bring their families.

According to the latest estimates, about 58% of the population are Nauruan, 26% are other Pacific Islander, 8% Chinese, and 8% European.


Nauruan, which is distinct from all other Pacific tongues, is the official language. However, English is still commonly used in the schools, in government, and in business transactions. Most Nauruans are bilingual but use Nauruan in everyday life.


The Nauruans have accepted Christianity as a primary religion since the end of the 19th century. A 2004 report indicated that about two-thirds of the population were Protestant and one-third were Roman Catholic. Missionary groups include Anglicans, Methodists, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Buddhism and Taoism are also represented, particularly among the Chinese community.

The constitution provides for religious freedom, but this right has been restricted by the government. Primarily, the government claims the right to restrict any organizations which it feels poses a threat to public safety, public order, or public morality. Under this assumption, the government has restricted Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses from proselytizing of native-born citizens, claiming that such actions are likely to break up families. Several officials of the Nauru Protestant Church hold influential positions in the government.


Transport to and from Nauru has traditionally been by ships calling at the island to unload freight and pick up phosphates for delivery to Australia, New Zealand, and other countries. There is no merchant marine, but the public Nauru Pacific Line has a fleet of six ships. In 2004, there was one airport and it had a paved runway. The government-owned Air Nauru flies regular air services to the Pacific islands, Taiwan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. In 1997 it carried 137,000 passengers on scheduled flights.

The road system extended for a total of 30 km (19 mi) in 2002, of which 24 km (15 mi) were paved. Apart from a 5 km (3.1 mi) railway (used to carry phosphates), a school bus service, and fewer than 2,000 registered motor vehicles, there is no local transport.


The original settlers are thought to have been castaways who drifted to Nauru from another Pacific island. The first recorded discovery of Nauru by a Westerner was made by Captain John Fearn of the whaling ship Hunter in November 1798. He named the island Pleasant Island. From the 1830s to the 1880s, the Nauruans had a succession of visitorsrunaway convicts, deserters from whaling ships, and other men who can be classed as beachcombers. The beachcombers provided the Nauruans with their first real contact with Western civilization and introduced them to firearms and alcohol. They acted as a buffer between two cultures but were often a bad influence on the Nauruans. Several times beachcombers and Nauruans attempted to cut off and capture visiting ships, so that eventually Nauru came to be avoided as a watering place by ships whaling in the area. The advent of firearms also disturbed the balance of power between the tribes on the island; sporadic tribal warfare culminated in a 10-year civil war from 1878 to 1888 that reduced the native population to less than 1,000.

The British and German imperial governments agreed to the partition of the Western Pacific in 1886. Their purely arbitrary line of demarcation left Nauru in the German sphere of influence quite accidentally. It was not until 1888, on the petition of the beachcombers-turned-traders, that the German government annexed Nauru as a protectorate and disarmed the people. Christian missionaries arrived in 1899 and had a greater impact on the Nauruan culture than did the German administration.

In 1901, Sir Albert Ellis, a New Zealand geologist, discovered that there were large deposits of phosphate on both Nauru and Banaba (then called Ocean Island). Phosphate mining on Nauru began in 1907, after the German government had granted a concession to the British-owned Pacific Phosphate Co. Laborers from the German Caroline Islands were hired because the Nauruans had no interest in working in the mines.

Nauru was occupied by the Australian Expeditionary Force in 1914, and phosphate continued to be shipped all through World War I. In 1919, Nauru was made a League of Nations mandate of the British Empire, and the governments of Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom agreed to administer the island jointly through an administrator to be appointed by Australia. At the same time the three governments obtained the mandate, they jointly purchased the Pacific Phosphate Co.'s rights to Nauruan phosphate for uk£3.5 million and began to work the deposits through a three-man board called the British Phosphate Commissioners (BPC).

The phosphate industry expanded greatly in the years between the wars. Australian and New Zealand farmers enjoyed substantial savings, for Nauru phosphate was sold at a much lower price than phosphate from other countries. As for the Nauruans, with their small royalty of eightpence a ton in 1939, they opted out of the industry completely and turned to their own culture for sustenance.

War came to Nauru in December 1940, when the island was shelled by a roving German raider, and four phosphate ships were sunk. Nauru was flattened by Japanese bombings beginning in December 1941, and all its industrial plant and housing facilities were destroyed. The Japanese occupied the island from August 1942 until the end of the war three years later. They deported 1,200 Nauruans to build an airstrip on Truk, a small atoll about 1,600 km (1,000 mi) northwest of Nauru, and many died there. Australian forces reoccupied Nauru in September 1945, and the surviving Truk Nauruans, who had been reduced in number to only 737, were repatriated in January 1946. Nauru's population thus fell from 1,848 in 1940 to 1,369 in 1946.

The three mandatory governments placed the mandate of Nauru before the UN. On 1 November 1947, the UN approved an agreement by which the island became a trust territory administered jointly by Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, who were to share the task of developing self-government on the island. The Nauruans had a Council of Chiefs to represent them since 1927, but this body had advisory powers only. Dissatisfied Nauruans made a number of complaints to the administering authority and to the UN Trusteeship Council, with the result that a Nauruan local government council was established by the election of nine council members in December 1951. Since control of the council was exercised by the administrator, however, the Nauruans continued to press for further political power. They asked for positions of importance in the administration and an increase in royalty payments, and expressed concern about the future of the island because the increased rate of phosphate exportation would, it was feared, exhaust the deposits by the end of the century. By constant negotiations, the Nauruans forced the BPC to pay royalties on a rights rather than needs basis, and with the establishment of a world price in 1964, phosphate royalties were raised. The Nauruans achieved control of the industry in 1967 by purchasing the plant and machinery owned by the BPC, and in 1970 they took over the industry completely.

Meanwhile, in 1964, Australia had attempted to resettle the Nauruans on Curtis Island, off the coast of Queensland. The Nauruans, although in principle not averse to resettlement, refused it because of political considerations. They wanted to own their island and to maintain their identity by political independence. Australia would not agree to this, and the plan collapsed. This failure reinforced the Nauruans' desire for political independence. With the support of the Trusteeship Council, they established an elected Legislative Council in 1966. Although Australia wished to maintain control of defense and external affairs, the Nauruans insisted on complete self-determination. Thus, on 31 January 1968, the 22nd anniversary of the return of the Nauruan survivors from Truk, Nauru became the smallest independent republic in the world. Since that time, Nauru has pursued a policy of isolation and nonalignment, although it does have a role in Commonwealth affairs. In October 1982, Queen Elizabeth II visited the island, the first British monarch to do so. Nauru established diplomatic ties with the former Soviet Union in 1988. Nauru filed a claim in 1989 for compensation from Australia at the International Court of Justice for the loss of nearly all its topsoil from phosphate mining during the League of Nations mandate and the UN trusteeship. Australia agreed to pay a$2.5 million for 20 years, and New Zealand and the United Kingdom additionally agreed to pay a settlement of $12 million each in August 1993 to settle the loss of topsoil case. Nauru's government announced plans to rehabilitate the island at the 1994 Small Island States Conference on Sustainable Development. In July 1992 Nauru hosted the 24th South Pacific Forum heads of government meeting, which focused on environmental issues, including opposition to nuclear testing in the area.

Since winning its independence in 1968, Nauru experienced many changes in leadership. Hammer DeRoburt became Nauru's first president and was reelected in 1971 and 1973. He was defeated for reelection after the legislative voting in 1976, at which time Bernard Dowiyogo was chosen to succeed him as president. DeRoburt's supporters forced Dowiyogo's resignation in 1978, and DeRoburt again became president. He was reelected in 1980 and in 1983. In 1986, DeRoburt resigned in protest over opposition to his budget and was replaced by Kennan Adeang; however, DeRoburt's supporters quickly forced Adeang to resign, and DeRoburt was elected again. Because he did not have a clear majority, he called for a new election in 1987 and was reelected decisively.

A vote of no-confidence forced DeRoburt to resign in August 1989. He was replaced by Kenas Aroi, who then resigned in December 1989 for reasons of ill-health. The December 1989 general election resulted in Bernard Dowiyogo's election to the Presidency. He was reelected President for a second three-year term in November 1992, but lost his 1995 bid for reelection to Lagumot Harris. A series of no-confidence votes over the succeeding years brought several changes in what has come to be called a "revolving door" presidency. Dowiyogo was returned to office for the fifth time, following an election in April 2000. On 29 March 2001, he was forced from office in a political crisis over the alleged involvement of a Russian organized crime syndicate in Nauru's financial activities, and replaced by Rene Harris in March 2001.

Rene Harris held the presidency until 8 January 2003, when a no-confidence motion was passed against him. His ouster from office was linked to his support for Australia's "Pacific Solution" to exclude asylum-seeking boat people. He was also accused of corruption and blamed for Nauru's dire financial situation: Nauru had a budget deficit in 2002 of approximately us$40 million, almost half of its GDP. Following the vote of no-confidence, parliament voted numerous times on who would be elected president. Rene Harris was replaced by Dowiyogo, who then died following heart surgery in the United States on 9 March 2003. Derog Gioura was named acting president. General elections were held on 3 May 2003, and Harris was returned to parliament, along with Gioura.

In May 2004, after longstanding political deadlock in the legislature, the opposition elected one of its members as speaker of the house and passed a series of Private Members Bills, including one preventing Nauru's assets from being sold or mortgaged without parliamentary approval. One month later, a vote of no-confidence removed president Rene Harris and his cabinet from office. Ludwig Scotty was elected president. Following a special election in October 2004, he enjoyed a majority in the legislature which enabled his government to pass a budget designed to cut government expenses by reducing public sector salaries.

Nauru became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations in May 1999 and joined the United Nations in September of the same year. Long blacklisted by international financial monitoring organizations and banks for its role as a tax haven and money laundering center, Nauru was removed from the Financial Action Group's blacklist in 2005, following modifications to Nauru's banking laws. In a 2005 appeal before the UN General Assembly, Scotty presented his nation's financial recovery goals, and called for assistance from the world's donor nations.


The constitution of the Republic of Nauru, adopted at the time of independence and subsequently amended, provides that the republic shall have a parliamentary type of government. It contains provisions for the protection of fundamental rights and freedomsa subject of particular importance because many of the inhabitants are short-term migrants ineligible for citizenship (defined in the constitution as being restricted to those of Nauruan or of Nauruan and Pacific islander parentage). Legislative power is vested in the parliament, composed of 18 members elected for a three-year term by Nauruan citizens who have attained the age of 20 years. Seven of the eight constituencies (representing 10 out of 14 districts) return two members each, and the constituency of Ubenide (representing 4 districts) returns four members. The first woman was elected in 1986.

Executive power is exercised by the president, who also fulfills the residual duties of head of state; he is elected by parliament and is assisted by a cabinet, which he appoints. The next parliamentary elections were to be held no later than May 2006; parliament's next vote for president was scheduled for 2007.

In 2005, the parliament undertook a review of the Nauru's constitution. One goal of the review was to reduce the frequencies of votes of no-confidence and the resulting political instability.


There have been ad hoc political parties since independence in Nauru, but politics is generally based on personal loyalties and occasionally on issue-based coalitions. After DeRoburt's reelection in 1987, Kennan Adeang formed the Democratic Party of Nauru, which aimed to curb the power of the presidency. Eight members of parliament joined the party. As of 2003, the Nauru Party was headed by Bernard Dowiyogo, and the Center Party was headed by former president Kinza Clodumar.


Until 1999, the Nauru Island Council was elected from the same constituencies as parliament and acted as a local government, providing public services. The council was dissolved in 1999; all assets and liabilities became vested in the Government of Nauru.

Besides fulfilling the traditional functions of local government, the Nauru Local Government Council manages the Nauru Corporation, the Nauru Pacific Line, and is responsible for overseas investments.


The constitution provides for a Supreme Court, with a chief justice presiding. Cases are also heard in the district court or family court. There are two other quasi-courts: the Public Service Appeal Board and the Police Appeal Board. The chief justice presides over both as chairman of the panel, with two members for each board.

The Supreme Court, which has original and appellate jurisdiction, is the supreme authority on the interpretation of the constitution. Appeals against decisions of the Supreme Court on certain matters go to the Appellate Court of Nauru, which is comprised of two judges. Cases also may be appealed to the High Court of Australia. Parliament cannot overturn court decisions.

The judiciary is independent of the executive. The constitution guarantees protection of fundamental human rights which in practice are generally respected.

Many cases never reach the formal legal system. Most of the conflicts are resolved by the traditional reconciliation process.


Nauru has no armed forces. Although there is no formal agreement, Australia ensures its defense. There is a police force of 60 officers under civilian control.


Nauru was admitted to the United Nations on 14 September 1999 and participates in ESCAP and several other nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, ICAO, ITU, UNESCO, and the WHO. The nation belongs to the Pacific Island Forum, the South Pacific Commission, the ACP Group, the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (Sparteca), the Asian Development Bank, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission. The country is a special member of the Commonwealth of Nations, taking part in some Commonwealth functions but not represented at heads-of-government conferences.

In environmental cooperation, Nauru is part of the South Pacific Regional Environmental Program, the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the London Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


The economy of Nauru has long been dependent on phosphates. Estimates are that the deposits will be exhausted within a few years. In anticipation of this event, substantial amounts of phosphate income are invested in trust funds to help cushion the transition. By 1987, an estimated $450 million had been set aside to support the country after the phosphates run out. At one point, the value of the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trusts reached $1 billion, making Nauruans on paper the richest people in the Pacific. However, dividends from the trusts have declined sharply since 1990 and the government has been borrowing from the trusts to finance fiscal deficits. In addition, a 1994 audit of the trust revealed that about $8.5 million had been lost due to bad investments and corruption.

By 1996 deficit spending had caused the country to default on servicing its external debt and was also creating problems in meeting the government payroll. A strict government austerity program reduced government spending 38% in 199899. Money has been lost through failed investments in property, aviation and fishing, but the evidence is indirect since there is no public accounting. In 2002, Air Nauru Pacific service was grounded because of arrears on bills to Qantas maintains. The air service is vital for food supply. Telephone service has also been occasionally cut because of unpaid bills.

The government has attempted to use the now-dwindling revenue from phosphates to diversify the island's economy, mainly through overseas investment and the development of a national airline and shipping line. Aside from phosphates, Nauru has few domestic resources, and many food products and virtually all consumer manufactures are imported. The government subsidizes imports so that food and other necessities are available at nominal cost. Nauru's economy is very weak and increasingly dependent on Australia. Offshore financial operations were begun in 1993, but the economy suffered in that year due to a major financial scandal. In 2000, the OECD listed Nauru one of 38 "noncooperative" tax havens. In 2002, it was one of only seven jurisdictions that remained on the list for not taking sufficient corrective action. A temporary infusion of funds was promised through Nauru's agreement with Australia to act as an offshore location for the processing of asylum seekers. For the use of its land, Nauru has been promised up to a$30 million.

There is no recent data to highlight economic trends in the country, but the need to create an alternative economy to phosphate extraction was crucialNauru was facing serious problems in the transition period. In 2005, the housing, labor (almost 90% of the working force was unemployed), and hospitals situation deteriorated. Australia had to step in to help the economy stay afloat.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Nauru's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $60.0 million. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $5,000. The average inflation rate in 1993 was -3.6%.


The workforce is primarily engaged in the state-owned phosphate industry, with public administration, education and transportation providing employment as well. Only about 1% of employment is in the private sector. As of 1992, there were some 3,000 guest workers in Nauru, mostly from Vanuatu or Kiribati. Unemployment is virtually nonexistent. There were no trade unions or labor organizations as of 2002. The right to strike is neither protected nor prohibited. Collective bargaining does not take place.

In 2002, the annual minimum wage in the public sector was us$6,562 for workers over 21 years of age. This provides an adequate standard of living for a family. The workweek for office employees is set at 36 hours, and for manual laborers the standard is 40 hours. The minimum age for employment is 17 years, although some younger children work in the few family-owned small operations. The government enforces health and safety standards in the workplace.


Since the cultivated area is limited to about 200240 hectares (500600 acres), there is little commercial agriculture. The main crop is coconuts; in 2005, production amounted to 1,600 tons. Some vegetables are grown, mainly by the Chinese population.


Pigs and chickens roam uncontrolled on the island; hence, there is no organized production. In 2005, there were an estimated 2,800 pigs.


There is as yet no organized fishing industry on Nauru, although the government plans to develop fishing facilities. The Nauru Fishing Corp., formed in 1979, is owned by the Local Government Council. Fish are plentiful and consumption is high, since almost all meat has to be imported from Australia. The total catch in 2003 was 43 tons.


There are no forests on Nauru. All building timber has to be imported.


High-grade phosphate rock was virtually Nauru's only natural resource, its only export commodity and leading industry, and the basis of the Nauruan economyGDP varied according to the world market price of phosphate. The government-owned Nauru Phosphate Corp. was the country's sole producer of phosphate rock, and the island nation's primary producer, employer, and exporter. Production of phosphate rock in 1998 was 487,000 tons, down from 613,000 in 1994. As of 2005, Nauru's phosphate rock reserves had become depleted. In 1998, Nauru also produced common clays, sand and gravel, and stone.

Phosphate rock was extracted from the surface mine on the central plateau in the island's interior, using mechanical shovels from between the coral pinnacles. Phosphate rock was trucked to a central storage pile and transported to storage hoppers by rail. After being crushed and dried, the rock was placed on conveyor belts to pass to the arm of two cantilevers, each about 60 m long, that projected out over the reef to waiting ships. All phosphate rock was exportedto New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, and South Koreaand the associated coral was used domestically for road aggregate.

In 1999, the government planned to launch a program to rehabilitate and develop the phosphate lands that have been mined for nearly 100 years, As of 1990, 61 million tons of phosphate had been mined. The plan was agreed to in 1994 with Australia and New Zealand, and the United Kingdom agreed to help Australia pay its us$73 million compensation package to Nauru for environmental damage; the rehabilitation would cost us$210 million over 23 years. Nauru's phosphate mine was the last active mine of three historic phosphate-producing islands of the Pacific. The other two, Makatea (in French Polynesia) and Banaba (formerly known as Ocean Island, in the Gilbert Islands group in the Republic of Kiribati), were depleted, respectively, in 1966 and 1979, making Nauru the sole Pacific Island producer.


Nauru has no proven reserves of oil, natural gas, coal, or refining capacity. All fossil fuel needs are met by imports. In 2002, Nauru's demand for refined oil products and imports averaged 1,010 barrels per day. There were no imports or consumption of natural gas, or coal recorded for 2002.

A diesel oil generator to which nearly all buildings are connected produces electric power. In 2002, total installed electrical power capacity was 10,000 kW. Production that year came to 30 million kWh, of which 100% was from fossil fuels. Consumption of electricity in 2002 was 27.9 million kWh.


The phosphate industry is the only industry on the island. It is under the control of the Nauru Phosphate Corp., a statutory corporation that is responsible to the president of the republic in his capacity as minister for island development and industry. About 75% of the profit from phosphate sales is invested in long-term trust funds that have been established to take care of the Nauruans after phosphate deposits are depleted. By 2002, the primary deposits were largely exhausted and expensive to mine; the mining equipment was poorly maintained and the mining operation overstaffed.


Nauru has little advanced technology, and Nauruans must travel abroad, usually to Australia, for scientific training.


The Nauru Cooperative Society conducts most of the nation's retail trade. The island is completely dependent on imported goods; foodstuffs come mainly from Australia. A majority of the population is employed in the phosphate mining industry, which was the nation's primary export.


Nauru's only export is phosphate rock. The value of exports fluctuates as world phosphate prices rise or decline. Imports consist of pretty much everything, including machinery and construction materials for the phosphate industry, food, fresh water (from Australia), fuel, and other necessities. Virtually all manufactured goods must be imported.

In 2004, exports totaled us$17 million (FOBFree on Board), while imports grew to us$20 million (CIFCost Insurance and Freight). Most of the exports went to South Africa (43.4%), Germany (20.7%), India (11.8%), Japan (7.2%), and Poland (4%). Imports primarily came from Australia (65.6%), Indonesia (5.4%), Germany (5.3%), and the United Kingdom (4.4%).


When the phosphate mines were running at full capacity, Nauru had a strongly favorable balance of trade and investments abroad were substantial. There was no recent data to highlight its balance of payments, but it was likely that the situation was not as favorable as in past years.


The government-owned Bank of Nauru was founded in 1976. The Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia and the Bank of New South Wales have branches in Nauru. The only commercial bank in the country is the Jefferson Bank and Trust Co. (1980). Most of the income from phosphates is invested in long-term funds overseas.

There is no stock exchange.


The Nauru Insurance Corp., founded in 1974, is the only licensed insurer and reinsurer on the island. It underwrites all classes of insurance, including aviation and marine.


Administrative costs in Nauru are met from the proceeds of phosphate sales, which are in decline as reserves approach exhaustion. In 1993, the governments of Nauru and Australia reached a $73 million out-of-court settlement as restitution for Nauruan lands ruined by Australian phosphate mining. This payment assisted the government (which relies almost entirely on phosphate receipts for revenue) in facilitating economic diversification. The fiscal year extends from 1 July to 30 June.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in fiscal year 1995/96, the most recent year for which statistics were available, Nauru's central government took in revenues of approximately $23.4 million and had expenditures of $64.8 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$41.4 million. Total external debt was $33.3 million.


There is no income or other tax in Nauru, although Parliament has power to impose taxes. In 2000, the OECD listed Nauru as one of 38 "uncooperative tax havens." In 2002, it was one of only seven countries that had not gotten removed from the list by taking some corrective action.


Duties are payable only on imported cigarettes, tobacco, and alcoholic beverages.


Apart from the investment in the phosphate industry, now owned by the government of Nauru, there has been little investment on the island. The government of Nauru has large investments overseas in long-term funds financed from phosphate royalties. Nauru also has invested in commercial property development, notably a 53-story office building in Melbourne, Australia.

Plans were approved in 1985 to build an industrial, commercial, and residential complex in Honolulu and, with the help of Japanese companies, a 19-story, 450-room hotel on Guam. Nauru received us$6.7 million from the Japanese government to build the new Anibare Community Boat Harbor at Yaren, scheduled to open in the spring of 2000. In 200203, the government is scheduled to receive up to a$30 million for allowing Australia to use the island as a processing centre for asylum seekers.


Government policy is to exploit the phosphate deposits to the fullest extent for the highest returns. The government has diversified into aviation and shipping and plans to develop fishing and tourism. It acquired the Grand Pacific Hotel on the Fijian Island of Suva and, in 1993, undertook a f$18 million renovation of the facility. In 1993, Australia agreed to provide us$73 million in compensation for pre-independence mining of phosphate to aid in restoring the extensive areas damaged by it.

In December 1998 Nauru won approval for a $5 million loan from the Asian Development Bank to aid in implementing structural reforms, including privatization. A National Economic Summit was held in 1999, but the proceedings were not made public. The true state of the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust Fund (NPRTF) is not known, nor are the reasons for its apparent substantial decline. In 2002 and 2003 the economy received a small boost from money paid by Australia for housing asylum seekers. Nauru remains on the OECD's list of uncooperative tax havens.

In 2005, Nauru was facing virtual bankruptcy after spending most of the money saved in the trust funds created to help the economy after the phosphates reserves were exhausted. In response, the government called a freeze on wages, a reduction in the number of public officials, and the closure of several overseas consulates.


Medical, dental, and hospital treatment and education are free. Other benefitsold age and disability pensions, widows' and sickness benefits, and child endowmentare administered by the Local Government Council.

The constitution guarantees women equal rights with men, although traditional social values still discourage many from pursuing careers. In particular, women face great social pressure to marry and raise families because Nauru's population was decimated in World War II due to massive removals by the Japanese. Women's educational and employment opportunities are severely limited by these traditional views on the roles of women, and there have been reports of educational scholarships being suspended for young women contemplating marriage. Domestic abuse is not prevalent, and the government treats reports of violent incidents in a serious manner.

Human rights are generally well respected.


There are two modern hospitals. One hospital serves phosphate industry employees; the other provides free medical treatment for the rest of the population. Patients who need specialized care are flown to Australia. In 2004, there were 149 physicians and 557 nurses per 100,000 people.

Tuberculosis, leprosy, diabetes, and vitamin deficiencies have been the main health problems, partly due to the switch to a Westernized diet. A national foot care education program was launched in 1992 to decrease the number of diabetic amputations. With modern facilities and treatments, many of these diseases have been brought under control. Cardiovascular disease has also been a major cause of illness and death.

Life expectancy as of 2005 was estimated at 62.73 years. The infant mortality rate was an estimated 9.95 per 1,000 live births in that year. The crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 26.6 and 7.1 per 1,000 people. The immunization rates for children under one year old were as follows: diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, 74%; polio, 74%; measles, 74%; and tuberculosis, 93%.

There were no reported cases of polio or AIDS. Tuberculosis is rare.


Ownership of houses built for Nauruans under a housing scheme is vested in the Local Government Council, but some Nauruan homes are privately owned. Nearly all houses have electricity and newer homes have a greater number of amenities.


Attendance at school is compulsory for Nauruan children from 5 to 16 years old. Two types of schools are available, both coeducational: those run by the government and those conducted by the Roman Catholic Church. Education is provided free by the government. Education on Nauru is available up to the intermediate level; higher education overseas, mainly in Australia, is assisted by the government in the form of competitive scholarships. There is also a university extension center affiliated with the University of the South Pacific.

In the early 1990s, Nauru had six preprimary and two primary schools, one secondary school, and a technical school, as well as a mission school. In 1998, there were about 2,000 students enrolled in primary schools and about 1,000 students enrolled in secondary schools. As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated 6.9% of total government expenditures. In 1991, the adult literacy rate was estimated at about 30.4%, with 47.4% for men and 14% for women.


The Nauru Bureau of Statistics maintains a small library which serves as a depository site for the Asian Development Bank. Nauru has one small lending library. The Nauru Military Museum contains WWII artifacts and displays donated by Stan Gajda.


Communication with the outside world is maintained by a ground satellite station established in 1975, providing 24-hour telephone, telegraph, and telex services worldwide. A small telephone exchange, handling 2,000 telephones in 1996, provides on-island communication. In 2002, there were 1,900 mainline and 1,500 mobile phones in use throughout the country.

Government-owned Radio Nauru, the only radio station, broadcasts in English and Nauruan. Though there is no local news reporting; the station rebroadcasts new services from Radio Australia and the BBC. As of 1997 there was one television station in operation. In the same year, there were 374 radios in use per 1,000 population. Internet service is available, with about 300 users in 2002.

Most newspapers are imported. There are two regular publications: the private fortnightly newspaper, the Central Star News, and the government Gazette.

The constitution provides for free expression, and the government is said to support this in practice.


The Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, and similar organizations function on the island. The Nauru National Youth Council was established in 1990 to encourage the development of various youth organizations. Sports associations are popular on the island. The Women's Information and News Agency monitors issues relating to women and government.


Nauru has great potential for the development of tourism, and the government is working on expanding the very limited industry. Its sandy beach, snorkeling, deep sea fishing, and scuba diving on the coral reef helps visitors enjoy the tropical climate and sea breezes. Island tours of the mines and the National Museum are also attractions. Popular sports are weightlifting, basketball, and badminton. A valid passport, visa, onward/return ticket, and proof of lodging are required to visit Nauru. Vaccinations are not mandatory, although recommended for typhoid.


The best-known Nauruan is its first president, Hammer DeRoburt (192392), who led the Nauruan people to political independence; he was president from 1968 to 1976 and again from 1978 until his death in 1992 (except for a brief period in 1986).


Nauru has no territories or colonies.


Craig, Robert D. Historical Dictionary of Polynesia. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2002.

Leibo, Steven A. East and Southeast Asia, 2005. 38th ed. Harpers Ferry, W.Va.: Stryker-Post Publications, 2005.

McDaniel, Carl N. Paradise for Sale: A Parable of Nature. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2000.

Pollock, Nancy J. Nauru Bibliography. Wellington, N.Z.: Dept. of Anthropology, Victoria University of Wellington, 1994.

Weeramantry, C. G. Nauru: Environmental Damage under International Trusteeship. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

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Republic of Nauru



Nauru is a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean, located just south of the equator, to the northeast of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Nauru is only 21 square kilometers (8.1 square miles) in size, making it one of the smallest nations in the world. As an island country, Nauru has no land borders with other countries. It is roughly circular in shape and has about 30 kilometers (18 miles) of coastline. Comparatively, Nauru is about one-tenth the size of Washington, D.C. Nauru has no cities and its population lives in small settlements along the coast.


Nauru's population was estimated at 11,845 in July 2000. About 58 percent of the total consists of indigenous Nauruans, a Pacific people of mixed Melanesian, Micronesian, and Polynesian ancestry. About 26 percent of the population consists of other Pacific peoples (mainly from the neighboring island countries of Kiribati and Tuvalu). Nauru's smaller minority populations are 8 percent Chinese and 8 percent European. The population growth rate was 2.4 percent in 1998. Nauru has no official population policy.

About 80 percent of Nauru's territory consists of land that has been mined for phosphate. This land is not inhabited and is not suitable for agriculture. Nauru's people live entirely in the fertile coastal areas, especially along the southwest coast.

Nauru's population is very young. About 41 percent of the total population is under the age of 15, while about 57 percent are between the ages of 15 and 64. Only about 2 percent of the population is above the age of 65.


Nauru's economy is dominated by the export of phosphate, a mineral used as a fertilizer. Supplies of phosphate are running out and are expected to last no more than 5 years. The government is encouraging new industries, such as offshore banking and tourism, to replace the declining phosphate industry.

Phosphate has been the basis of Nauru's economy since 1906, when the island was a German colony. The decay of marine microorganisms on an atoll (a coral island made up of a reef surrounding a lagoon), supplemented by thousands of years of bird droppings, have made Nauru into an island made almost entirely of phosphate. Phosphate has been exported mainly to Australia and New Zealand, where it improved the poor soils in those countries. After Germany's defeat in World War I, Nauru was made a trust territory by the League of Nations (and later the United Nations) and governed jointly by Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain, although Australia effectively handled all of the administration. Nauru became independent in 1968.

During the colonial administration, a trust fund was established in which part of the income from phosphate sales was deposited. This fund was set up to provide the country with income when phosphate supplies run out. This trust fundthe Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trustas well as the phosphate mining company, are controlled by the Nauruan government.

Phosphate mining has made Nauru very rich and provides citizens with some of the highest per capita incomes in the Pacific region. But phosphate mining has also seriously damaged Nauru's environment. About 80 percent of the land consists of mined-over territory that is now un-inhabitable. Nauru's extreme dependence on phosphate means that it has to import nearly everything else, including food, fresh water, fuel, and all manufactured products.

As the country's reserves of phosphate have dwindled, the Nauruan government has encouraged other industries, especially tourism and off-shore banking, to locate in the country. Tourism is limited by Nauru's remote location and lack of major attractions. Off-shore banking has proved more successful, but has been marred by corruption and scandals involving money laundering . For example, the Russian mafia has been accused of using Nauruan banks to process its illegal revenues. Apart from Internet-based banking, there is almost no foreign investment in Nauru and no foreign investment policy.


Nauru became an independent republic in 1968; it is the smallest republic in the world. Nauru is a member of the British Commonwealth and was admitted as a full member of the United Nations in 1999. Nauru generally follows the political system of Great Britain and has a unicameral (one chamber) Parliament with 18 members who hold office for 3 years. The Parliament elects the president, speaker, and deputy speaker. The cabinet, which consists of the president and 5 other members of Parliament, holds executive power. Members are elected as independents rather than from political parties. Nauru has had 8 changes of government since independence. Lately Nauru's government has become increasingly fractious, with a constant reshuffling of leaders and ministers.

The Nauruan government controls most aspects of the country's economy. The government owns most of the large businesses, including the Nauru Phosphate Corporation, the national airline, and the national bank. The government also controls the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust, which collects and invests phosphate royalties. The fund is currently estimated to have a value somewhere between $100 million and $800 million, but no details are publicly released. There are no taxes in Nauru, and government activity is financed entirely from phosphate revenues. The government is the largest employer and provides free health care and education to all citizens. As the Nauruan government is extremely secretive, it is difficult to obtain exact figures for many aspects of the country's economy.

Nauru has no military, but the Nauruan police are responsible for law and order and for national defense. Nauru generally has good relations with neighboring island countries. Nauru has had disputes with France because of French nuclear testing in the South Pacific in 1995, and the passage of French ships carrying plutonium and nuclear waste through Nauruan waters in 1992 and 1997.

The Asian Development Bank is the only provider of external financial assistance, in the form of loans, to Nauru. This aid is used to help reform the Nauruan government, to make it more open, to help diversify the economy away from phosphate mining, and to provide for health care, sanitation, and education.

In 1994, Nauru agreed to an out-of-court settlement in a lawsuit it had brought against Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain. The basis of the lawsuit was to seek compensation for environmental damage to the country during the pre-independence period when phosphate mining was controlled by these countries. Australia agreed to pay Nauru US$73 million as part of the settlement. Great Britain and New Zealand reimbursed Australia for a small portion of this payment.

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations a Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Nauru 2,000 (1996) 450 (1994) AM 1; FM 0; shortwave 0 7,000 1 500 1 N/A
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
Philippines 1.9 M 1.959 M (1998) AM 366; FM 290; shortwave 3 (1999) 11.5 M 31 3.7 M 33 500,000
Solomon Islands 8,000 658 AM 3; FM 0; shortwave 0 57,000 0 3,000 1 3,000
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].


Nauru has 30 kilometers (19 miles) of roads, of which about 80 percent are paved. The major road circles the island, while the others connect the phosphate mines with coastal settlements. The only rail facilities on Nauru are narrow-gauge and run 5.2 kilometers (3.2 miles) from the phosphate mines to a processing plant. Nauru has no port or harbor, but it does have a deep water anchorage and facilities for loading phosphate onto ships. Nauru operates its own airline, called Air Nauru, with 2 aircraft (Boeing 737s), based at Nauru's international airport. The airline connects Nauru with Australia and other Pacific and Asian countries. The government heavily subsidizes Air Nauru, and its future is questionable. Nauru has international telephone connections by satellite. The country is completely electrified and power is supplied by diesel generators, the fuel for which is imported.


Nauru has only 2 important economic sectors: mining and financial services. Nauru's economy is dominated by phosphate mining, while Internet-based banking is an emerging sector. Nauru's agriculture is extremely small-scale and cannot provide enough food for the population. Despite being an island, Nauru has no real fishing industry. Apart from a few handicrafts, there is no manufacturing industry on Nauru.


Agriculture accounts for only a tiny portion of Nauru's economic activity, making up only 5 percent of GDP in 1995. Apart from some market gardens, the only agricultural products of any significance are coconuts, in addition to chickens and pigs for domestic consumption. Because of environmental damage from phosphate mining, less than 20 percent of Nauru's land is suitable for agricultural production.



Phosphate mining dominates Nauru's economy and has done so throughout the 20th century. The large phosphate mines are located in the center of the island, an area called Topside. Between 1920 and the country's independence in 1968, Nauru was administered by Australia, and the phosphate mines were owned and operated by the British Phosphate Commission (BPC). After independence, the Nauruan government took control of the phosphate mines and created the Nauru Phosphate Corporation. The Nauru phosphate deposits are among the world's richest. Phosphate was and continues to be exported, primarily to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia. Phosphate supplies are expected to run out within 5 years.

Mining has had a severe environmental impact on the country. About 80 percent of the land area has been devastated after phosphate has been removed, leaving a landscape unsuitable for any other kind of industry or as residential land.



The tourism sector in Nauru is very small, as the country does not offer many attractions and cannot compete with neighboring Pacific island countries. Nauru is remote and expensive to get to, and tourist facilities are extremely limited. There are only 2 hotels and no resorts. Nevertheless, the Nauruan government is attempting to develop the tourist industry to replace dependence on phosphate mining, but little has been done so far.


Nauru has developed a large Internet-based "offshore" banking industry, with more than 400 banks registered in the country (all of which are listed at the same address, that of the government-owned Nauru Agency Corporation). The advantages of banking in Nauru are the absence of taxes and banking secrecy. It costs only about US$5,680 to establish a bank in the country, and US$4,980 per year in registration fees after that. In 1998, Nauru was accused by the Russian government of accepting an estimated US$70 billion in deposits from the Russian mafia, and providing cover for organized crime (this money does not actually come to Nauru, but is electronically transferred through the Nauru banks). Other countries, including the United States, have also protested against Nauru's "laundering" of illegally-obtained funds. The United States even threatened to abolish Nauru's right to trade in U.S. dollars. In 1999, Nauru bowed to these international pressures and vowed to clean up its banking industry.

The government controls the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust, which receives a share of the profits from phosphate sales. The assets of the fund have been estimated as being anywhere between $100 million and $800 million. Most of the assets consist of overseas real estate as well as stocks and bonds. Major real estate developments owned by the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust include Nauru House, which is one of the largest office buildings in Melbourne, Australia, and hotel developments in Hawaii and Fiji. The secrecy of the Nauruan government prevents exact figures from being known, but most experts suggest that the lower end of the estimated asset range is more accurate. The trust fund has been the subject of numerous allegations of corruption and mismanagement.


Nauru's major trading partner is Australia. Other important partners are New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia. These countries purchase Nauruan phosphate for use as a fertilizer. Phosphate is Nauru's only export. Apart from some locally-produced foods (fruit, coconuts, chickens, and pigs), virtually everything is imported into Nauru, including most foods, fresh water, fuels, motor vehicles, building materials, and machinery. Most of these goods are imported from Australia.


Nauru does not have its own currency, but uses the Australian dollar. By doing so, it gains the advantages of

Exchange rates: Nauru
Australian dollars per US$
Jan 2001 1.7995
2000 1.7173
1999 1.5497
1998 1.5888
1997 1.3439
1996 1.2773
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

allying its economy with a stronger, larger neighbor. As Australia is Nauru's largest trading partner, using the Australian dollar simplifies trade because currencies do not need to be converted. On the other hand, Nauru's monetary policy is linked to changes in the Australian dollar, which has dramatically depreciated (decreased in value) against the U.S. dollar over the past several years. Inflation in Nauru has generally been quite low.


Nauru's phosphate wealth has made it one of the richest countries in the Pacific and, on a per capita basis, one of the richest countries in the world. Revenues from phosphate mining provide an extensive system of social support for Nauruan citizens. Nauru is a true welfare state , and everything is provided by the Nauru government, including free health care and education. Many Nauruans also receive various kinds of payments from the government, including a share of mining royalties, compensation for damage to land, and unemployment insurance. This has led to complete dependence on government. Nauruans have been described as living a life of "luxury and leisure."

Residents' luxurious lifestyles have come with a high price, however. The change in the local diet, which is now rich in high-fat imported foods, has given Nauru one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world. Nauru also has

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Nauru N/A N/A N/A N/A 5,000
United States 28,600 30,200 31,500 33,900 36,200
Philippines 2,600 3,200 3,500 3,600 3,800
Solomon Islands 3,600 3,000 2,600 2,650 2,000
Note: Data are estimates.
SOURCE: Handbook of the Nations, 17th,18th, 19th and 20th editions for 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 data; CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online] for 2000 data.

high rates of unemployment and alcoholism, among other health and social problems. Unemployment has not become a major concern, however, as the government, as well as family members, provide support for non-workers. According to the Asian Development Bank, there is no evidence of absolute poverty in Nauru. The entire population has access to safe drinking water, and 97 percent have access to good sanitation.


The government is the main employer in Nauru, and the private sector employs only 1 percent of the work-force. Major branches of government employment include the government-owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation and the administrative and bureaucratic branches of government. Many Nauruans do not work but receive assistance from the government. Much of the mining work is done by foreigners, especially temporary workers from China, the Philippines, and the neighboring island countries of Kiribati and Tuvalu. About 3,000 foreign workers live in Nauru. Non-Nauruans face many restrictions, including limitations on travel in and out of the country and limitations on their political rights.

Nauruan workers have the right to form unions, but none have yet been established. Women's access to employment is restricted by social conventions, and there are few women employed by government companies and no women in Parliament. Because the government takes care of all its citizens' needs, there has been little incentive for education in Nauru, and few Nauruans travel overseas to study at universities.


1798. British whaler Captain John Fearn is the first European to visit Nauru and names it "Pleasant Island."

1888. Nauru annexed by Germany.

1899. Phosphate deposits discovered.

1906. Phosphate mining started by a British-Australian company.

1914. Nauru occupied by Australia after World War I begins.

1920. Australia begins administration of Nauru on behalf of the 3 trustees: Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain.

1941. Nauru's industrial plant and housing facilities are completely destroyed by Japanese bombings.

1942. Nauru occupied by Japanese forces until 1945.

1951. A local government council set up to handle local affairs.

1968. Nauru achieves independence.

1994. Australia agrees to out-of-court settlement of US$73 million for environmental damage caused by phosphate mining during the Australian administration of the island.

1998. Russian mafia transfers an estimated US$70 billion to Nauru banks to evade taxes.

1999. Nauru bows to international pressures to control its banking industry; Nauru admitted as a member of the United Nations.

1999. Nauru government borrows US$100 million from General Electric Corporation; trust fund assets used as collateral.

2000. Fiji government seizes the Nauru-owned Grand Hotel in Fiji on the grounds that the Nauru government failed to develop the property as agreed.

2001. Nauru agrees to process more than 300 refugee "boat people" (mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan) originally bound for Australia. Australian government agrees to give Nauru US$10 million and pay all costs of housing and feeding refugees. A refugee camp is built in the center of the island.

2001. Australia grounds Air Nauru's 2 Boeing 737 aircraft, claiming that the airline did not have sound management and that the Nauru airport was unsafe.

2001. Bank of Nauru closes because of lack of cash. Economists warn that the value of the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust Fund may be approaching zero.


Nauru's phosphate industry has reached the end of its life, with the last supplies expected to run out within a few years. It is unclear how the country will support itself once the mines close. Diversification into other economic sectors, such as tourism and offshore banking, have not proven especially successful. Tourism has remained small due to the country's remoteness and lack of attractions. Offshore banking has been marred by scandals involving money laundering and corruption, and the country has been heavily criticized for this. With its tarnished reputation, many foreign companies will be hesitant about investing in Nauru.

The imminent closure of Nauru's phosphate mines mean that the country will be left with no major source of income and with severe environmental problems. About 80 percent of the country has been ecologically devastated by mining, and this land is not suitable for agriculture or for residential property. The cost of rehabilitating the mined-out land is expected to cost at least US$200 million and it is unclear where this money will come from. Nauru's water supply is becoming more limited because of the depletion of natural underground reserves. The country already has to import drinking water.

Income from the country's Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust will help tide over the country when the mines first close, but it will not be sufficient to replace the income from mining royalties themselves. The trust fund itself has been marred by allegations of corruption and mismanagement, and the ability of the trust fund to keep producing income is questionable.

With its mines closing and its environment in ruins, Nauru faces a grim future. The careful and wise investment of the country's remaining assetsin its trust fundis the most likely source of salvation for Nauru.


Nauru has no territories or colonies.


Asian Development Bank. "Country Performance Assessment:Nauru." < .asp>. Accessed December 2000.

CountryWatch. "Country Review: Nauru." <>. Accessed February 2001.

Hanson Cooke Ltd. "The Republic of Nauru." <>. Accessed December 2000.

Lal, Brij V., and Kate Fortune, eds. The Pacific Islands: An Encyclopedia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. "World Factbook 2000: Nauru." <>. Accessed December 2000.

Viviani, Nancy. Nauru: Phosphate and Political Progress. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1970.

Weeramantry, Christopher. Nauru: Environmental Damage Under International Trusteeship. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Michael Pretes


No official capital, but the Yaren District houses the government offices.


Nauru uses the Australian dollar (A$). One Australian dollar equals 100 cents. There are coins of 2 dollars, 1 dollar, 50 cents, 20 cents, 10 cents, and 5 cents. There is no 1 cent coin. Banknotes come in denominations of 100, 50, 20, 10, and 5 dollars.




Food, fuel, manufactured goods, building materials, machinery.


US$201.3 million (1999 est.).


Exports: US$19 million (1997). Imports: US$17.2 million (1996).

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ETHNONYMS: Navodo, Nawodo, Pleasant Island


Identification. Nauru is an independent republic, an associate member of the British Commonwealth, and a member of the South Pacific Commission and the South Pacific Forum. The indigenous term for the island is Nauru, but early European visitors gave it the name of "Pleasant Island," which was used briefly.

Location. The single raised coral island of Nauru is located in the center of the Pacific basin, at 0°25 S, 166°56 E. It has a narrow fringing reef that drops off very steeply to the ocean floor. A fertile belt some 150-300 meters wide above the shoreline encircles the island. On the inland side a coral cliff rises to a height up to 300 meters above sea level; this central plateau once bore the richest deposit of phosphate rock in the Pacific, but this deposit is almost mined out, leaving stark coral pinnacles.

Demography. At the last census in 1983 the Nauruan population was 4,964, with another 2,134 residents from Kiribati and Tuvalu and 263 Europeans, almost all employed by the Nauru Phosphate Commission. Since the previous census in 1977 the proportion of Nauruans has increased from 57 percent to 62 percent. Nauruans have a positive-growth population policy partly because of a series of declines in the past, including reduction to 589 persons during World War II.

Linguistic Affiliation. Nauruan is classified as an isolate within the Micronesian Family of Austronesian languages. It contains many Kiribati words, but it has deviant features that do not fit easily with neighboring Micronesian or Polynesian languages. Most Nauruans also speak English.

History and Cultural Relations

Little is known of Nauruan prehistory except what is suggested by myth and legend. Tradition holds that Nauru was settled by Tabuarik, who came from Kiribatias did subsequent boatloads of Kiribati peopleand took over the island from a small group living there. In more recent times the Island was visited by whalers and escaped convicts from Norfolk Island and Australia. In 1886, an Anglo-German declaration assigned Nauru to Germany, who administered the island until 1914; after World War I the island became a League of Nations mandate under Australian administration. Following World War II, when the Japanese occupied the Island, Nauru was a United Nations trusteeship administered by Australia until 1968 when it became an independent republic. Its economic history is based on the discovery of phosphate in 1899, the mining of which commenced in 1906. Beginning in 1919 the British Phosphate Commissioners (BPC) administered the mining operation and took proportionate shares in the phosphate mined. The BPC initially paid those Nauruans whose land was mined a royalty of one half-penny per ton of phosphate shipped. Inadequate returns to Nauruans for their phosphate has been a contentious issue for which Nauruan leaders have sought redress. Since independence the Nauru Phosphate Corporation has sold the phosphate on the open market for high returns, and Nauru has taken a positive lead in Pacific island affaire, choosing to share some of its wealth through airline and shipping links with countries that have limited communication networks.


All residences are in one of twelve districts located in the narrow coastal belt, except for one village beside Buada Lagoon in the interior. The administrative center and contract worker housing, together with some Nauruan housing, are concentrated in the southwest corner of the island. Formerly housing was provided free by the government from phosphate royalties, but some individuals used their own phosphate income to build larger, more elaborate houses. Housing styles are thus varied but reminiscent of those found in any Western metropolitan country. In each district there is a primary school and at least one small store and a gas station. There are two main churches as well as three smaller chapels. The districts are linked by a road that encircles the island, with side roads serving the special housing areas. The interior village around Buada Lagoon is linked by road to the coastal area, with a branch road serving the current location of mining. This interior road network is decreasing as the phosphate is taken out and only the coral pinnacles remain.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Phosphate mining is now the base of the economy, though copra was the first source of cash before 1906 when mining commenced. Phosphate royalties have been invested both by individuals and by the government against the time when mining ends. Nauruans' income is derived mainly from these royalties, but also from employment and pensions. About half of the Nauruan population is privately employed or works in the administrative arm of government, teaching, or NPC administration. All consumer goods are imported to Nauru, mainly from Australia.

Industrial Arts. Several Nauruans have opened repair shops for cars and electrical appliances, based on some training gained in Australia and local apprenticeship. The expertise for mining operations is still largely in the hands of non-Nauruans.

Trade. Phosphate took over from copra in 1906 as the main source of trade income, and since independence this has increased tenfold. The Nauru Cooperative Society, formed in 1923 as the major controller of imports of foods and general merchandise, has been superseded by the Nauru Corporation, which is controlled by the Nauru Local Government Council. In addition there are a number of small stores in town run by Chinese who employ young Kiribati and Tuvalu girls as shop assistants. Nauruans take trips to Australia or Fiji to make major purchases.

Division of Labor. Formerly men were in charge of fishing while women cared for the household and children and made handicrafts. Today women's and men's tasks are much less differentiated, with both sexes holding paid jobs or assisting with household maintenance. Some men still go fishing, but mainly as sport. Kiribati men fish from canoes and sell their produce on the island.

Land Tenure. Nauruans hold land by virtue of being born of Nauruan parents; non-Nauruans cannot hold land. Land is passed on in named parcels from a parent to all children, such inheritance being recorded with the Nauru Lands Board. Thus individual Nauruans hold rights in several parcels but some of these shares may be very small. Those rights are the basis on which compensation for mining is paid. In addition to land, Nauruans also own rights to fishing places, lagoons, useful trees, goods, songs, and dances.


Kin Groups and Descent. Every Nauruan belongs to an extended kin group consisting of both mother's and father's relatives as the largest affiliation. In addition a Nauruan is born into the mother's clan group. Formerly there were twelve named clans but today only ten exist, the main function of which is to regulate marriage.

Kinship Terminology. The system used is basically of the Hawaiian type, with classificatory terminology distinguishing generations and mother's relatives from father's.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. A couple intending to marry must be from different clan groups, and they must seek approval of their respective district councillors. Most marriages take place in church though today there are a few common-law marriages. Divorce is uncommon, but separation is more frequent, especially for Catholic couples. The birth of a child must be registered if the child is to receive the rights of being Nauruan, even if the birth takes place outside of Nauru.

Domestic Unit. The family unit consists of a wide group of relatives on both the father's and mother's side. Adoption is relatively common, especially by a Nauruan who has no children of his or her own. If accepted by the community, an adopted relative receives the same rights to land and residence as does a blood relative. A Nauruan household is likely to comprise an older couple with one or more married children and grandchildren, for an average size of eight persons per household.

Inheritance. Rights to land, useful trees, goods, songs, dances, and all other possessions are passed on from parents to all children, both natural and adopted.

Socialization. Children are much loved and treated with care and affection by both parents and all members of the Domestic unit. Schooling is highly valued by parents, who may make financial sacrifices to send daughters and sons to secondary schools in Australia and New Zealand. Children are raised to think of themselves as Nauruans and to speak the Nauruan language.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Nauruan society used to have three status groups: the Temonibe, the Amengename, and the Itsio. The first two were landholding groups, while the Itsio consisted of those who sought the protection of a Temonibe. Membership in the first two groups was by birth. The Temonibe were very highly respected and usually owned more land. They took on leadership in war or in large economic undertakings, but they were not chiefs. Today these three status groups are no longer significant.

Political Organization. The modern Republic of Nauru has an elected parliament of eighteen members, headed by a president. The councillors are elected from each district, as are members of the parliament. District chiefs were an innovation of European administration in 1927, and they gained significance when the Nauru Local Government Council (NLGC) was formed in 1951. Nowadays the NLGC controls most internal affairs.

Social Control and Conflict. Informal control is still maintained within Nauruan families, but formal control is in the hands of the Nauru police force and the judiciary, which consists of a supreme court, a chief justice (based in Melbourne, Australia), and district and family courts.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Nauruans had their own traditional cosmology with beliefs in spirits and gods such as Tabuarik, who was represented in a stone now removed by mining activities. Family ancestors were honored with food offerings on an altar outside each family homestead. The centenary of the landing of the first London Missionary Society representatives was celebrated in 1987, and today most Nauruans are members of either the Nauruan Congregational church (60 percent) or the Roman Catholic church (33 percent). A breakaway Protestant church was formed in 1977 under the American Pentecostal church, but it has not drawn many adherents from the two established churches.

Religious Practitioners. Five Nauruans are ordained as pastors of the Congregational church, the younger ones having trained at Pacific Theological College in Fiji. The Catholic priest is appointed from Rome.

Ceremonies. Independence Day is celebrated on January 31; and "Amram Day" is observed in October to recognize the important day in 1933 when a Mrs. Amram gave birth to the 1,500th Nauruan. In addition, church feasts, marriages, and deaths are celebrated. Most festivities are marked with elaborate food sharing.

Arts. Weaving and other traditional arts are no longer practiced due to the lack of materials.

Medicine. Two hospitals serve the needs of Nauruans and other residents, but if other services are required patients are transported to Australia. Filariasis, leprosy, and tuberculosis are under control, but Nauruans have been noted as having a high incidence of diabetes and glucose intolerance.

Death and Afterlife. Funerals are conducted according to the faith of the deceased. A Nauruan is buried in the cemetery of the district to which he or she belonged. Such funerals are marked by feasts.

See also Kiribati, Tuvalu


Macdonald, Barrie (1988). In Pursuit of the Sacred Trust. New Zealand Institute of International Affairs Occasional Paper no. 3. Auckland.

Pollock, Nancy J. (1987). Nauru Report to Commission for Rehabilitation of Nauru. Melbourne: Government Printer.

Viviani, Nancy (1970). Nauru: Phosphate and Political Progress. Canberra: Australian National University Press.

Wedgwood, Camilla (1936). "Report on Research Work in Nauru Island, Central Pacific." Oceania 6:359-391; 7:1-33.


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Republic of Nauru

Major City:
No official capital; government offices in Yaren District


The original inhabitants of NAURU came from a mixture of people from Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. Nauru remained fairly isolated until the early 19th century, when it became a base for American whalers. In the late 19th century the island came under German administration, which discovered the island's immense phosphate reserves and developed them. In 1914 Nauru was surrendered to Australia. Nauru was made a League of Nations mandate of the British Empire in 1919, and was occupied by the Japanese and bombed by the Allies during World War II. In 1947 it became a trust territory of the United Nations, administered by Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Nauru became the world's smallest independent republic on January 31, 1968. Nauru's economy relies entirely on exports from phosphate mining. A century of mining, however, has left the landscape barren, and phosphate reserves are all but exhausted. Profits from the phosphate industry have been invested abroad for when the phosphate runs out. Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have agreed to compensate Nauru with $73 million for the loss of the island's topsoil that occurred from phosphate mining during the years of the League of Nations mandate and United Nations trusteeship.


Since it is so small, Nauru has no major city. The YAREN DISTRICT , on the southwest part of the island, is the main distribution area for goods and the center of the island's government. In 2000, the estimated population was 10,000. Many residents go shopping in Yaren once a week. The government-owned Nauru Phosphate Corp. is the primary employer. Others work in public administration and education. There is a marina. Nauru's own airline, Air Nauru, has scheduled flights to Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane), Pohnpei and Guam in Micronesia, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Manila in the Philippines.

Recreation and Entertainment

Nauru lies in the middle of some excellent fishing grounds, with water depths rapidly plunging to 2,000 feet just off the edge of the island's shores and reefs. The island's waters are becoming popular with Australian anglers, who come looking for marlin, sailfish, wahoo, yellowfin tuna, and dolphin-fish. The ocean floor's precipitous dropoff makes it possible to catch large game fish within 1,000 feet from the shore. The best months for fishing are from April to December.

Nauru has virtually no tourism. There is only one hotel in the country, the Menen Hotel, which is perched on the edge of the ocean. For many years the hotel has served as the meeting place for residents and visitors. The hotel was recently renovated and expanded to international standards, and now features bars and restaurants, a gaming room, and tennis courts. The Parliament House, the seat of Nauru's government, is in the Yaren District.


Geography and Climate

Nauru is an oval-shaped coral island with an area of just under 8.2 square miles in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Nauru is one of the smallest nations in the world, and its nearest neighbor is the Kiribati island of Banabar, some 180 miles away. The island has a coastline of about 18.6 miles.

There is a relatively fertile belt of soil 500-1,000 feet wide that encircles the island. From the lowlands, coral cliffs rise to a central plateau some 200 feet above sea level. Buada Lagoon, in the southern end of the central plateau, covers 300 acres and is a permanent (often braskish) lake.

Nauru's position just 37 miles south of the equator gives the island a hot and humid tropical climate, but the landscape is arid and desolate.


The population of Nauru is approximately 12,000 (2001 est.) Most Nauruans live along the coastal fringes in one of the traditional districts. The majority of the inhabitants are Nauruans, a mixture of Micronesian, Melanesian, and Polynesian origins. The remainder are Chinese and immigrants from Kiribati and Tuvalu, Australian and New Zealander employees, and some Filipino contract workers. The majority of the population is Protestant, while over one-third is Roman Catholic. Nauruan is the predominant language, but English is widely spoken and understood.


Nauru adopted its constitution on January 29, 1968, and amended on it on May 17, 1968. The country was established as a republic with a parliamentary system of government. The president is head of state as well as head of government. The president is elected by the parliament from among its members every three years. The president serves as prime minister, appointing four or five members of parliament to form the cabinet. Cabinet ministers, including the president, take charge of the various government departments and are held accountable by parliament. The unicameral parliament consists of eighteen members, who are elected every three years by resident Nauru citizens over the age of twenty. A speaker and a deputy speaker are chosen from the parliament's members. A Supreme Court was established by the constitution and a District Court and a Family Court also operate. In most cases, the highest court of appeal is the High Court of Australia.

Nauru's flag has a blue background divided horizontally by a narrow gold band, symbolizing the equator. Below the band is a white 12-pointed star, representing the island's 12 original tribes.

Arts, Science, Education

Education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16. The government subsidizes the schools, and some schools are run by the government while others are operated by the Roman Catholic Church. The government provides higher education through competitive scholarships to attend university overseas, usually in Australia. There is also an extension center of Fiji's University of the South Pacific.

Commerce and Industry

Despite the lack of agriculture, the per capita income of Nauru is among the highest in the world, and the standard of living is much higher than on other Pacific Islands. Nauru's economy has been based on the export of phosphates (a mineral used to make fertilizers). Nauru is the only remaining producer of the three historic phosphate-producing islands of the South Pacific. The other two were Banaba (in the Gilbert Islands of Kiribati) and Makatea (French Polynesia). Phosphate exports have given Nauruans one of the highest living standards in the world. There are no naturally-occurring fruits and vegetables, just a few coconut palms and scrub bushes imported by visitors. Food is not scarce, however, and plenty of fresh fish is caught on the island to make up the dietary mainstay along with canned meat and vegetables.


Nauru International Airport is located about half a mile northwest of Yaren District's center. Traffic moves on the left in Nauru. The main road circling the island is paved, but the remaining roads are unpaved. Animals and pedestrians walking in the road make night driving on unlit secondary roads hazardous. There are fewer than 2,000 motor vehicles, and a school bus service is the only form of local transport. The only railway is a 2.4-mile shuttle used to carry phosphates.


A ground satellite station has provided telecommunications service with the outside world since 1975. There is also a local telephone exchange to handle local calls. Radio Nauru and Nauru Television are operated by the government. The Central Star News is a private newspaper published twice a month. Nauru Bulletin is a weekly published by the Department of Island Development and Industry.


Nauru has two hospitals, with over 200 beds, and about ten resident physicians. Tuberculosis, leprosy, diabetes, and vitamin deficiencies have been the main health problems, partly due to a Westernized diet. Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of illness and death.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Jan. 31 Independence Day

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Easter*

May 17 Constitution Day

Oct. 26 Angam Day

Dec. 25 Christmas

Dec. 26 Boxing Day



A passport, visa, onward/return ticket, and proof of hotel bookings (or sponsorship from a resident of Nauru) are required for tourists. Tourist visas are issued for a maximum of thirty days. Travelers transiting with valid ticket/onward destination do not require a visa, provided that the first connecting flight departs within three days of arrival in Nauru. Business visitors must have a visa and a local sponsor. Nauru collects a departure tax that must be paid in cash and in Australian dollars. For more information on entry/exit requirements, travelers may wish to contact the Nauru Consulate General in Melbourne, Australia at telephone (613) 9653-5709, fax (613) 9654-4738.

Nauru's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Nauru of items such as foodstuffs, animals, and pornographic materials. It is advisable to contact the Nauru Consulate General in Melbourne, Australia for specific information regarding customs requirements.

There is no U.S. Embassy or diplomatic post in Nauru. Assistance for U.S. citizens in Nauru is provided by the U.S. Embassy in Fiji, which is located at 31 Loftus Street in Fiji's capital city of Suva. The telephone number is (679) 314-466; the fax number is (679)300-081. Americans may register with the U.S. Embassy in Suva, Fiji and obtain up-to-date information on travel and security in Nauru from the Embassy. Information may also be obtained by visiting the Embassy's home page at


Petit-Skinner, Solange. The Nauruans. San Francisco, CA: Macduff Press, 1981.

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Nauru (näōō´rōō), officially Republic of Nauru, atoll and independent republic (2005 est. pop. 13,000), c.8 sq mi (20 sq km), central Pacific, just south of the equator and west of the Gilbert Islands of Kiribati. It was formerly called Pleasant Island. There is no official capital, but government offices are located in the Yaren District (1996 est. pop. 600) in the southwestern part of the atoll. There is a narrow band of habitable land along the coast; the island's interior is environmentally devastated as a result of phosphate mining.

Nauruans (nearly 60% of the population) are predominantly Polynesian with a mix of Micronesian and Melanesian strains. There is a large Pacific Islander minority and smaller groups of Chinese and Europeans. Nearly all the inhabitants are Christians; two thirds are Protestant and one third are Roman Catholic. The official language is Nauruan, but English is commonly used in government and commerce.

Nauru was important for its high-grade phosphate deposits, now depleted, and more marginal deposits are now being mined. Nauru has few other resources and must import virtually all necessities, mostly from Australia. South Africa and South Korea are also important trading partners. The country placed much of its phosphate revenue in trust funds to ease the transition away from mining, but bad investments and corruption led to a serious depletion of the fund in the 1990s. In an attempt to generate income, Nauru became an unregulated offshore banking center, gaining notoriety for money laundering. It abandoned the industry in Mar., 2003, under the threat of crippling economic sanctions by the United States, which regarded Nauru banks as potential havens for terrorist financing. By mid-2004 Nauru faced bankruptcy, and the remaining assets of the trust, mostly Australian property, were seized to pay off its debts. In July, 2004, Australian officials took charge of the country's finances.

Nauru is governed under the constitution of 1968. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is elected by the unicameral Parliament for a three-year term. The 18 members of Parliament are popularly elected, also for three-year terms. Administratively the country is divided into 14 districts.


Nauru was visited in 1798 by the British and annexed in 1888 by Germany. Occupied during World War I by Australian forces, it was placed (1920) under a League of Nations mandate to Australia. Throughout World War II the island was occupied by the Japanese. Nauru was administered by Australia, Britain, and New Zealand under a UN trusteeship until 1968, when it became one of the world's smallest independent states. In 1993, Australia agreed to pay Nauru about $75 million for environmental damage caused by mining before independence. The country also has received aid from Australia in exchange for its acceptance (beginning in 2001) of Afghan, Iraqi, and other Asian refugees that Australia refused to admit; in addition, the cost of running the detention center is entirely underwritten by Australia. The operation of and conditions at the center became a subject of controversy in 2014 when the government did not permit international inspectors to visit.

Bernard Dowiyogo, who became president for a seventh time in Jan., 2003, died in Mar., 2003. Ludwig Scotty was elected president in May but was ousted in a no-confidence vote in August. René Harris, a former president, replaced Scotty, but Scotty returned to office in June, 2004, after Harris was similarly ousted. In elections in October, called after the parliament failed to pass a reform budget, Scotty's supporters secured a majority and he was reelected. Scotty remained in office after elections in Aug., 2007, but was replaced by Marcus Stephen after a no-confidence vote the following December. Parliament was split, however, between Stephen's supporters and opponents, and after several months of deadlock, Stephen declared a state of emergency and called a new election, which resulted in a majority for his government.

By 2010, the parliament was again divided between his supporters and opponents, and a snap election in April returned all members to office, continuing the deadlock. A new election in June led to the loss of an opposition seat, but the deadlock continued and Stephen again assumed emergency powers. The deadlock was finally resolved in November, and Stephen was reelected president. A year later, allegations of corruption led to his resignation. Frederick Pitcher was elected to succeed him, but he lost a confidence vote within days and was replaced by Sprent Dabwido. Dabwido's cabinet was roiled by resignations and a dismissal in Feb., 2013, and parliament was ultimately dissolved. After new elections in June, Baron Waqa was elected president. The country faced a judicial crisis in early 2014 after the government effectively exiled key members of its Australian-staffed judiciary. The move was sparked by a stay of a deportation order, and prevented a judicial oversight of the government, including its seizure of a profitable foreign-owned commercial property. Subsequently a number of opposition members of parliament were suspended for talking to the foreign media about the crisis.

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Official name: Republic of Nauru

Area: 21 square kilometers (8.1 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Unnamed central plateau (61 meters/202 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Southern and Eastern

Time zone: 11:30 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 5.6 kilometers (3.5 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest; 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from west-northwest to east-southeast

Land boundaries: None

Coastline: 30 kilometers (18.6 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Nauru is an oval-shaped island in the western Pacific Ocean, 42 kilometers (26 miles) south of the equator. The closest neighboring land is the island of Banaba, which is part of the country of Kiribati. With a total area of 21 square kilometers (8.1 square miles), Nauru is the smallest nation in Asia, roughly one-tenth the size of Washington, D.C.


Nauru has no territories or dependencies.


Nauru has a tropical climate that is tempered by sea breezes. The westerly monsoon season occurs from November to February. Temperatures range from 23°C to 32°C (75°F to 91°F). Nauru experiences widely variable rainfall, ranging from 31 centimeters (12 inches) to as much as 457 centimeters (180 inches). Rainfall provides most of the nation's water supply.


A coastal plain at the perimeter of the island gradually rises to a fertile section no wider than 275 meters (902 feet). A coral cliff rises from this belt to a central plateau.


Nauru is located in the west-central Pacific Ocean.

Seacoast and Undersea Features

The island is surrounded by a coral reef, which is exposed at low tide and dotted with pinnacles. The reef is bounded seaward by deep water.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Nauru has a smooth coastline without significant indentations.

Coastal Features

Beaches line the coral reef that encircles Nauru.


The permanent, often brackish Buada Lagoon (Lake Buada) is the only lake of significance on the island.


Nauru has no rivers.


There are no deserts on Nauru.


Nauru's coastal strip consists of sandy beaches fringed by palm trees.


There are no mountains on Nauru.


Nauru's coral reefs include a large underwater grotto known as the Cave. A popular spot for divers, the Cave is some 30 meters (98 feet) below sea level.


A central plateau of phosphate-bearing rock comprises four-fifths of Nauru's landmass, making the nation one of the largest phosphate-rock islands in the Pacific.


The landscape does not include any prominent man-made features.


Nauru and the other fifteen low-lying countries of the Pacific Islands Forum face the environmental crisis of rising sea levels due to global warming. The consequences of climate change include destruction of freshwater sources, more intense storms, loss of crops to seawater, and coastal erosion.



McDaniel, Carl N. Paradise for Sale: Back to Sustainability. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

U.S. Department of State. "Background Notes, Nauru." Washington, DC: Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of Public Communication, Editorial Division, U.S. Department of State, 1988.

Web Sites

Lonely Planet World Guide, Destination Nauru. (accessed April 9, 2003).

Ocean 98: Welcome to Nauru. (accessed April 9, 2003).

Pacific Island Travel. Nauru. (accessed April 9, 2003).

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Nauru
Region (Map name): Oceania
Population: 11,845
Language(s): Nauruan, English
Literacy rate: N/A

This Oceanic island, located south of the Marshall Islands, became the world's smallest independent republic when it achieved independence from Australia in 1968. It joined the United Nations in 1999. The President holds dual roles as chief of state and head of government, heading a unicameral, 18-seat Parliament. The official language is Nauruan, a distinct Pacific Island language, but English is widely spoken and often used in government and business. The population is approximately 12,000. Nauru is one of the three great phosphate rocks of the Pacific. Accordingly, the country's economy has been dependent on phosphate mining for nearly 100 years. The industry has given Nauruans a high standard of living, but reserves are quickly dwindling, demand is waning, and the extraction process has severely damaged the land, stripping as much as four-fifths of the country's total area. In an effort to replace mining, the government is encouraging the development of the offshore banking industry.

The government of Nauru respects freedom of speech and the press. There is no daily newspaper. The most widely read newspaper is The Nauru Bulletin, which appears weekly every Friday. A publication of the Department of Island Development and Industry, it focuses on government news and information and has a circulation of 700. It was founded in 1965. The Central Star News, founded in 1991, appears fortnightly on Saturday and publishes in both Nauran and English.

There is only one radio station, which is AM, one television station, and one Internet service provider, CenpacNet, Inc. There are 7,000 radios and 500 televisions.


CenpacNet, Inc. (n.d.) Home Page. Available from

"CocoNET Wireless," The University of Queensland, Australia (1997). Available from

"General Information," (2002). Available from

"Nauru," CIA World Fact Book (2001). Available from

"Nauru," Freedom House (2000). Available from .

Jenny B. Davis

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Nauru
Region: Oceania
Population: 11,845
Language(s): Nauruan, English
Literacy Rate: NA

An island in the central Pacific Ocean, Nauru is part of the British Commonwealth. The educational system there is based closely on the British model. Roman Catholic missionaries operate several parochial preprimary, primary, and secondary schools in Nauru, and during the 1990s, the Catholic church and the Nauruan government began working together in an effort to standardize the primary educational curriculum.

Education is free and mandatory for children aged 6 to 15. Preprimary education consists of both preschool and preparatory school. Enrollment rates in preprimary institutions grew from 62.7 percent in 1991 to 75.4 percent in 1998. Primary education lasts for six years and culminates in a national examination, successful completion of which is necessary for a students to be awarded the Nauru Primary Certificate. The student-teacher ratio is roughly 24:1. Secondary education is divided into two components: the first four years are compulsory, while the additional two years are optional. Students seeking higher education quite often do so in Australia.

In 1998, Nauru spent 10.72 percent of its national budget on education, one-third of which was earmarked to provide scholarships to students seeking higher degrees abroad. The primary language of instruction is English, although many teachers speak Nauruan in the classroom. In the mid-1990s some teachers began receiving training in English as a Second Language (ESL).

Efforts to offer vocational and technical education faltered in the late 1990s due to a lack of equipment and qualified teachers. Teacher shortages throughout the island prompted education officials to look into the creation of a teacher training institute, which is scheduled to be completed early in the twenty-first century.

Bibliography Nauru. 2001. Available from

UNESCO. The EFA 2000 Assessment: Country Reports: Nauru. World Education Forum, 2000. Available from

AnnaMarie L. Sheldon

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Culture Name

Nauruan is the indigenous name used on official documents. Politically, the country is called the Republic of Nauru (RON).

Alternative Names

Pleasant Islander. Other spellings have appeared, such as Naoero on the national crest.


Identification. The name Pleasant Island was used by the first Europeans in reference to the lush vegetation and friendly inhabitants. Nauruans are attempting to recreate that image after the devastation left by phosphate mining.

Location and Geography. Nauru is a single, almost circular island, 37 miles (60 kilometers) south of the equator. It is over 185 miles (300 hundred kilometers) from its nearest neighbor, Ocean Island, and nearly 500 miles (800 kilometers) from Kiribati to the east and the Marshall Islands to the northeast. The Solomon Islands are 744 miles (1,200 kilometers) to the southwest. Topographically, Nauru is shaped like a hat, with a coastal fringe forming the brim and the raised interior forming the crown. The interior, known as Topside, makes up four-fifths of the island; it has been mined for phosphate, and now is an almost impassable area of calcite pinnacles. Buada lagoon is in the raised interior. The island covers a total area of 13 square miles (21 square kilometers). The island is a raised reef consisting of calcite and phosphate on a volcanic base. Nauru has very steep sides that drop down to the ocean floor. This has made anchorage for shipping difficult and necessitated the use of a special mooring device.

Demography. The population has been estimated to be over nine thousand, of which indigenous Nauruans account for about six thousand. In the 1992 census, the population was projected to reach 8,100 by 1996, with a growth rate of 4.3 percent. The remainder of the population includes Pacific islanders from Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Fiji, along with Chinese, Filipinos, Indians, Australians, and New Zealanders. The population is relatively young, with 66 percent of the people under age 24. Population growth has been a major concern throughout the twentieth century. Attempts to reach a total of 1,500 were set back by the influenza epidemic of 1919, but that figure was reached in 1932, a date that now is celebrated as a national holiday. However, the population was severely reduced by starvation, disease, and bombing during World War II. In 1943, of the 1,201 Nauruans deported to Truk by the Japanese, 464 died, leaving 737 to return on 31 January 1946. The population reached 1,500 again in 1950 and has continued to grow. The nation continues to espouse a positive population policy. A very small proportion of Nauruans live overseas, but many visit Australia, New Zealand, and other countries for purposes of work or education or to visit family, and return home.

Linguistic Affiliation. Nauruan is classified as a Micronesian language but does not fit easily within subgroupings of Austronesian languages. It shares some words with Kiribati but is recognized as standing alone. Nauruans are writing their own dictionary. All Nauruans speak English as well as their own language.

Symbolism. The frigate bird is a major symbol; it is found on the fin of Air Nauru planes and appears as the official logo. The crest consists of two palm trees encircling an orb that includes a Christian cross above a resting frigate bird and a flower. Above the orb is a twelve-pointed star representing the twelve tribes of Nauru. Beneath the orb are the words "God's Will First," indicating the Christian basis of the community's way of life. Phosphate has become another symbol, forming the basis of the nation's wealth.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. In 1968, Nauru took over the management of its people and affairs when independence was granted by the trusteeship committee of the United Nations. It took over the running of the phosphate mines in 1970 after paying $13.5 million (U.S.) to the British Phosphate Commission. Those two assertions of social and economic self-reliance released Nauruans from the dominance of outsiders who had exploited the phosphate and the people for seventy years. Mining for phosphate, which dominated Nauruan history in the twentieth century, began when the Pacific Phosphate Company based in Sydney found high-grade phosphate in 1906. This mineral was used to fertilize pasture in Australia and New Zealand. Control passed from Pacific Phosphate to the British Phosphate Commission (BPC) in 1919. BPC was owned by Australia, Great Britain, and New Zealand. In addition to running the mine, Australia became the administering authority under a League of Nations mandate after World War I. Thus, the lives of Nauruans became inextricably tied to Australia and BPC until they achieved independence in 1968. The mine was run using laborers from China and the Pacific islands, particularly Kiribati and Tuvalu. Nauruans chose not to work in the mine other than to hold administrative positions in the 1950s and 1960s. Today most of the administrators are Nauruan, and labor is brought in on contract from the Philippines and India as well as from Kiribati and Tuvalu. World War II left a major mark on the history of Nauru. In 1942, the Japanese invaded, bringing some seven thousand men and military installations and building three runways. Two-thirds of the population was deported to Truk, an atoll to the north, where one-third died of starvation and disease. Those left on Nauru suffered severe privation, including starvation and bombing by the Americans for two years. When Australian forces reclaimed Nauru at the end of the war, the island was a mass of military litter, almost totally lacking in food supplies.

In the 1800s, the island had been a playground for whalers and beachcombers who left behind many English-sounding surnames, as well as guns and gin that added to the damage caused by mining. Nauruans want to rehabilitate the island so that they can use the interior four-fifths that has been mined out. Rehabilitation will be funded by 1993 payments of $120 million by Australia and $12 million each by Great Britain and New Zealand as compensation for mining damage before 1968.

National Identity. National identity as Nauruan remains very strong. It can be claimed only by those born of a Nauruan mother. All Nauruans are registered at birth, or shortly thereafter in the Births Deaths and Marriages register of the Nauru government, under their mother's clan. Failure to register a child as Nauruan eliminates that person from the entitlements of being Nauruan, particularly access to land rights, and to shares in phosphate revenue. A child of a Nauruan father, but whose mother is of another nationality must seek special permission to be registered as Naruan.

Ethnic Relations. Ethnic relations between Naruans and other groups brought into the small island, such as Chinese, Filipinos, Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Fijians are marked by clear distinctionsthe latter are grouped as Pacific Islanders. Each group is known for its particular place in the phosphate industry, and for the lifestyle adopted in Nauru. For example, the Kiribati men have brought their small canoes, from which they fish to sell to nauruans. All other groups work for Nauruans in one way or the other.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Nauru lacks an urban space. Eighty-five percent of the population lives on the narrow coastal strip, with the rest living around the Buada lagoon. All nine thousand inhabitants are crowded alongside the phosphate-processing facilities and the port, mainly in the southwest corner of the island. The airport runway takes up much valuable flat land. Virtually no land is used for agriculture. Until Top-side is rehabilitated, the expanding population will become increasingly crowded on the coastal strip. Before mining commenced, the people of Nauru used the interior of the island as a means of crossing from one coast to the other and as a source of food and recreation. The government intends to return Nauru to its status as Pleasant Island with vegetation and places for recreation.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Almost all food is imported, with the exception of fish caught by Kiribati fishermen. Nauru provided pandanus and fish in premining times, and these were eaten with coconut meat. In times of drought, food shortages could last for two or more years. As a result of mining revenues, the people have a variety of supermarket foods, from turkey to milk. Rice is the basic staple, and fish with rice is the ideal meal. This diet is said to contribute to a high rate of obesity, which often is a precursor to diabetes.

Basic Economy. Phosphate revenues are the mainstay of the economy, together with investments made with revenues earned from earlier mining activities. An average per capita income of $14,400 (U.S.) per year covers up the two extremes: those who have a large number of investments offshore and those who have barely enough to live on. Nauru is an expensive place to live, as almost all necessities have to be imported, although water is now obtained from a desalinization plant. Until the mid-1980s, Nauruans had a strong welfare economy in which housing, education, and health were provided and government scholarships were available for tertiary education overseas. Major cutbacks in social welfare provisions have forced people to buy the materials for their houses and rely more on their personal incomes. Nauru Trust Funds are another potential source of income for all citizens who are recognized landowners and members of Nauruan matrilineage. Five funds were set up between 1920 and 1968, but payments have not been forthcoming as the trustees and the government struggle to assess the amount of revenue in the funds. The Nauruan people will have to live off the proceeds of mining, which is almost finished. The government is looking for economic alternatives.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Nauruans pride themselves on being a democratic society and denounce the two classes that formerly marked their society. The temonibe and amenengame classes consisted of the senior matrilineage as opposed to those in the junior matrilineages. These two classes were distinguished from the itsio, or slave class, which included those who arrived on Nauru from outside and had no land holdings. Heads of lineages were drawn from the temonibe class. A chiefly system instituted in 1927 was replaced in 1951 by the Nauru Local Government Council which consists of elected members.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Symbols of stratification are more latent than overt. Elites with large off-shore bank accounts are known by reputation, as it is not acceptable to flaunt wealth on the island. Trucks or motorbikes and large houses are the extent of manifestations of wealth.

Political Life

Government. Nauru is an active member of the South Pacific Forum and participates in the South Pacific Bureau of Economic Cooperation (SPBEC) and the Forum Fisheries Agency. As the chair of the forum in 1993, Nauru presented a strong case for sustainable development in the small Pacific island states. Its strength is derived from the struggles of its leaders to maintain recognition of Nauruans' rights in their own land. As early as 1921, concerns about Nauruans' returns from phosphate were raised by leaders such as Timothy Detudamo and Hammer de Roburt. Those leaders pressured the BPC and the Australian administration to grant greater shares of the phosphate returns to the Nauruan people and provide better living conditions. Administrative costs were taken out of phosphate profits rather than paid for by Australia as the administering authority under the League of Nations mandate. In 1927, the Australian administration instituted a system of chiefs for the twelve districts. In 1951, Nauruans chose to replace that structure by a more democratic elected body, the Nauru Local Government Council (NLGC), with elected councillors representing the districts. The NLGC was disbanded in 1992. The government now consists of a president and five cabinet ministers as well as a judiciary and a public service. Nauru maintains diplomatic relations with several countries. There is no military force.

Social Problems and Control. Drunk driving, particularly by young Nauruan men is a serious problem and the leading cause of death on the island. Families exercise social controls, though there is a police force for major social violations. Concerns about pay-outs from the Trust Funds led to a sit-in across the airport runway in 1993 at the time the Pacific Forum leaders were arriving. That reaction resulted in those women (it was a women's action) being fined, some lost their jobs, and the leaders were arrested. There is no jail as such on the island. Serious criminal offenders may be incarcerated in an Australian jail by arrangement.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Nauruans grew up under a broad welfare system in which all their welfare needs were met. Those funds came from the Australian administering authority out of a special Nauru Trust Fund whose money came from phosphate profits. Housing, education, health care, and the public service were all paid for under this administrative account. That system was terminated in 1986, and older Nauruans are finding it hard to live under the new regime, especially those whose lands were mined early. Nauruans have been asking the government for money from the trust funds, and this has caused political antagonism.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Nongovernmental organizations are active mainly within church and youth activities. Both the Congregational and Catholic church have church committees amongst others that work with the Social Welfare department.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. A division of labor by gender is not easily defined. The matrilineal social system gives women a lot of power, so they lead behind the scenes, while men take the political roles in government. Civil Service consists of mostly male heads with women seeking these jobs in the past 20 years. Two of the diplomats in overseas postings have been women. Most of the primary school teachers are women, while men are active in phosphate management. The term "division of labor" is no longer appropriate.

The Relative Status of Women and Men.

Nauruans maintain social ties through the mother (matrilineal ties). Mothers are the anchor persons of kin groups and residential groups, and ties between sisters and brothers are strong. Women are the main care givers within and between households, but they have entered the workforce in considerable numbers in the last fifteen years. Men predominate in political affairs and all senior government positions. Only two women have shared political office at any one time. Male leadership has dominated Nauru's external affairs. Women are active in the National Council of Women and in church committees.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

All Nauruans belong to a matrilineal group or clan. Each birth and death is publically identified by clan affiliation in a public document. That affiliation lasts the lifetime of the individual and is not altered by marriage. A marriage partner must be selected from another clan. Marriage today is largely a Christian affair, though there are concerns that some young people are opting not to marry; their children belong to the mother's lineage. Households center on the mother, who takes care of and then is cared for by her children. The nominal head of the household is the male, but the decision-making head is the mother, who is largely responsible for economic management as well as social care. Land and other properties are inherited by both sons and daughters, but only daughters can pass on their rights to their children without seeking extended family consent. Modern properties such as motor-bikes are passed on within extended families. All Nauruans belong to a district. That affiliation is inherited through the mother or father but may be changed during a person's lifetime for political reasons. District affiliation includes responsibility for participating in district activities.


Children belong to the mother's lineage but are cared for equally by their paternal kin. Adoptions, whether formal or informal, are fairly common. Children are indulged by Western standards; they can and do exercise a traditional right of demand for goods from the mother's brother. They are seldom left alone and form part of a large network of kin that extends around the island. A primary school is located in each village; from there students progress to government high school or the Catholic high school. A few are sent to Australia or New Zealand to study, especially if their parents received their secondary education overseas. Government scholarships for Nauruans are offered for tertiary study in Australia and New Zealand. The University of the South Pacific Extension Centre is offering opportunities for tertiary study.


Nauru is a Christian country so a prayer opens most gatherings. Children are expected to honor and respect their elders. Mothers are particularly honored. Dress is usually European. Many elements of Australian etiquette are followed as public practice.


Religious Beliefs. Christianity arrived in the 1880s, introduced by both a Catholic missionary and a Congregational minister. Those two religions dominate today. The Catholic Church provides a secondary school, while the Congregational Church, which is the national church, has a major church in the center of the downtown area and smaller churches in the districts. Timothy Detudamo translated the Bible into Nauruan in the 1930s. Before Christian beliefs arrived and mining destroyed Topside, Nauruans believed in the primordial establishment of the island by two spirits that came from Kiribati and were manifest in two rocks, one on either side of Topside. Those rocks have disappeared, along with many of the other useful aspects of Topside. Buada lagoon is another site of spiritual strength for some Nauruans.

Medicine and Health Care

Government concerns about health have led to programs of intervention, including encouraging more sports and physical activity by young people. Attempts are being made to reduce the high rate of road accidents, particularly among male motor-cyclists. High alcohol use also is being addressed by educational programs. Two hospital exist on the island. One is run by the government for Naurans and a separate facility is run by the Nauru Phosphate Corporation for its contract workers.

The Arts and Humanities

Nauruans have revived their interest in their history. The Department of Education is producing a history from a Nauruan perspective as well as a Nauruan dictionary. Writers are being encouraged, mainly through the USP Extension Centre on Nauru, to produce stories, poems, and songs. Throughout the twentieth century, poems were written to commemorate special events. Those poems recorded not just historical events but also the culture of Nauru.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The project to rehabilitate the interior (Topside) has generated considerable interest in the plants and animals of the island. The Committee for Rehabilitation of Nauru consisted of Australians supported by AIDAB and Nauru, working alongside Nauruans. It encouraged a number of young people to share their interest in and knowledge about plants as well as understanding of the social dynamics of the island.


Dobson Rhone, R. "Nauru: The Richest Island in the South Seas." National Geographic 11(6):559589, 1921.

Ellis, Albert F. Ocean Island and Nauru, 1935.

Fabricius, Wilhelm. Nauru 18881900, 1992.

Hambruch, Paul. Nauru. Ergebnisse der Sudsee Expedition, 19081910, 1915.

Kretzschmar, K. E. Nauru, 1913.

Pollock, Nancy J. Nauru Report, 1987.

. "Social Fattening Patterns in the Pacific: A Nauru Case Study." In N. J. Pollock and I. de Garine, eds., Social Aspects of Obesity, 1995.

. Social Impact of Mining on Nauruans, in press.

Viviani, Nancy. Nauru, Phosphate and Political Progress, 1970.

Weeramantry, C. Nauru: Environmental Damage under International Trusteeship, 1992.

Nancy J. Pollock

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Nauru Island republic in the w Pacific Ocean, a coral atoll located halfway between Australia and Hawaii, and the world's smallest independent state. Nauru was explored by a British navigator, John Hunter, in 1798. In 1888, the atoll was annexed to Germany. Australian forces occupied Nauru during World War I. During World War II, the Japanese held Nauru. In 1968, the island became an independent republic within the Commonwealth. Nauru has rich deposits of high-grade phosphate rock, which account for 98% of its exports (2000 GDP per capita, US$5000). Area: 21sq km (8sq mi). Pop. (2002 est.) 11,300.

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Nauru is a small Polynesian island, east of New Guinea, whose economy is based largely upon phosphate. Visited first in 1798, it became a German colony and was occupied by the Australians in 1914. After the First World War, it was administered as a mandate by Britain, Australia, and New Zealand and occupied during the Second World War by the Japanese. It became an independent republic in 1968 and is an associate member of the Commonwealth.

J. A. Cannon

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NAURU. A country of Oceania, an island of 21 square miles, and member of the COMMONWEALTH. Languages: Nauruan (official), English. A German colony since the late 19c, Nauru became a League of Nations mandate in 1920 and later a UN trust territory administered by Australia, gaining internal self-government in 1966 and independence in 1968.

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Nauru •Andrew •Maseru, Nehru •aircrew • écru • breakthrough •Hebrew • see-through • corkscrew •walk-through •Nakuru, Nauru •froufrou • guru • woodscrew •thumbscrew • run-through • Timaru

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