Nauru: a case for the Earth

Written by Stefano Zenobi

Islands are fascinating parts of the earth; they are isolated systems that allow us to see outside-in a small version of the earth. Among all the islands of the world, my favourite is Nauru; a record breaking country in the pacific ocean near Australia.
Nauru is the third smallest country in the world, followed only by Monaco and the Holy town. Its 6.000 people spread over an area of 21 squared kilometers. However, its small territory is not the interesting part of the country. The history of Nauru is very educative on how to not manage natural resources and the socio-economic development.
Nauru has been “blessed” with phosphate resources created during the centuries by the deposit of seagulls excrements. These resources were located near the surface making their exploitation a cheap and viable option. It comes without saying that during the 70s and the 80s the few thousand Nauruan people have enjoyed one of the highest economic growth of the world. 
After cases of mismanagement of the money earned from phosphate mining resulting in millionaire losses, the open-air mines left behind only a degraded environment.
The central part of Nauru, which accounts for about 80 per cent of the total Nauru land, was altered irremediably and rendered inhabitable. Wastes from the mining activity also poisoned the limited water available and killed about 40 per cent of the maritime life. Soon, Nauru turned from being a fast growing country into relying on foreign aids to survive.
Economic poverty never comes alone. Nauruan people are currently the most obese population in the world; 97% of men and 93% of women are obese. Obesity in Nauru is caused by the high dependence from imported food from Australia and New Zealand. Nauru has limited arable land and during the years of the phosphate mining boom the people gave up traditional gardening and fishing favoring food importation. Import was at that time affordable thanks to the high income earned from the phosphate mining. 
As most other pacific islands, Nauru is threaten by climate change. Climate change may further stress the marine ecosystem surrounding Nauru and an increased intensity and frequency of typhoon will put in danger Nauru’s inhabitants. Nonetheless, the main problem is given by sea level rise. Actually, Nauru land is high enough to not be submerged by sea level rise. The coast is an exception but unfortunately, it is where Nauruan population lives; the part of Nauru that is safe from sea level rise is the central area that was mined and rendered inhabitable. Therefore, people in Nauru will need to migrate because of sea level rise.
Nauru provides us with a great example of how deep the relation between human beings and the environment is. Nature is a powerful and abundant resource that sustained us for millennia and can keep on doing it if it is treated with respect and wisdom. If the relation turns into exploitation, all the gains will be eventually nullified with consequences that will go far beyond the initial expectations. The Earth’s population can only to learn from the case of Nauru, keeping in mind a little caveat; Nauru’s population can move to another island but this might not be so easy for the Earth’s population.