Republic of Nauru
LOCATION AND SIZE.
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 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 $800 million. Most of the assets consist of overseas real estate as well as stocks and bonds. Major real estate developments owned by the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust include Nauru House, which is one of the largest office buildings in Melbourne, Australia, and hotel developments in Hawaii and Fiji. The secrecy of the Nauruan government prevents exact figures from being known, but most experts suggest that the lower end of the estimated asset range is more accurate. The trust fund has been the subject of numerous allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
Nauru has no territories or colonies.
No official capital, but the Yaren District houses the government offices.
Nauru uses the Australian dollar (A$). 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.
GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT:
US$201.3 million (1999 est.).
BALANCE OF TRADE:
Exports: US$19 million (1997). Imports: US$17.2 million (1996).